Back Of House With Bill

A Series On All Things Hospitality

April 6, 2020

Healthcare: The New Normal

Like most, I have had my share of interactions and visits with doctors, nurses and a host of clinicians either of my own or supporting family throughout many varying situations which life has presented. For the majority of these visits, I have always been fascinated by each individuals’ abilities to demonstrate compassion and ultimately balancing the medical and human care needed. These abilities are often taken for granted, maybe even underappreciated until we are face to face with these professionals.

As we all navigate our present situations, I must pause and start by giving a shout out to the frontline care workers (clinical and non-clinical) exposing themselves to risk in trying to contain this disease on behalf of all of us. These are very special men and women, believe me. Winston Churchill once said, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”   He said that as a tribute to the very small band of Battle of Britain fighter pilots who defended the UK in the air in the summer of 1940. It seems to me that almost exactly 80 years later the same tribute is applicable to those on the frontline of trying to control this virus and at the same time save lives. We need to thank all of them in our own ways.

We often fail to include Healthcare in the hospitality industry conversation, neglecting to consider they face similar obstacles, albeit with added pressure and expectations. Think for a moment, a hospital shares so many of the traditional hospitality roles; registration, valet parking (increasing in many locations), housekeeping, room service, and food and beverage outlets.  The hospitality challenges Healthcare facilities face under normal circumstances are daunting. No one actually wants to be in the hospital, unlike most circumstances in the hospitality industry.   

Adding in patient emotions of apprehension, fear and uncertainty about what experience lies ahead, only compounds the pressure placed on the clinical and non-clinical staff, when dealing with patients. All of them and nurses in particular, encounter a triple threat, a dynamic relationship they are forced to manage between the patient, family members/friends and the physician. Managing that communication triangle can be very tricky and presents one of the biggest Hospitality opportunities.

These layered conversations are difficult enough, but also consider having to relay really bad news to a patient or family member, or even just responding to question like; “Is my Dad going to make it?” or “How long do they have.” The host of questions which team members (clinical and non-clinical) field go far beyond “Where can I get a coffee?”, as patients and guests look to these professionals for nearly everything. Emotions get far more frayed when it concerns someone’s health. Patience and compassion are truly required, together with a great deal of social skills when working in this environment in any capacity.

I learned a lesson very early in our partnership with our Healthcare network when modeling a hospitality training session to a group of physicians and surgeons, who essentially eviscerated me on the content (quite rightly by the way). I had made the mistake of believing that content applied in the hotel industry could be easily adapted to the healthcare environment….huge mistake on my part. To work in this industry, companies such as mine have to be extraordinarily creative to capture the attention and interest of incredibly gifted and skilled professionals in their field. We need to be equally perceptive to the real issues of the day-to-day operations in a Healthcare facility and adapt to their worlds. Although these Healthcare facilities share similarities to the rest of the hospitality industry, we must be hyper focused to approach and address the moments when “thinking” hospitality improves, expedites, and enhances the patient/staff relationship. 

The New Normal

Healthcare facilities are used to dealing with sick people, proving they are trained to cope through challenging times, but will they ever return to the same normal of just a few months ago? Are Healthcare facilities prepared for the demanding patient situations that this crisis is developing?

The immediate challenge has been well documented; space, beds and the right equipment in plentiful supply is our greatest challenge. Within the hospitals that we partner with, very good protocols were enacted swiftly, particularly around access and egress issues, but without the correct inventory of supplies, any problem is compounded. These strong protocols which were quickly enacted, even in locations which the crisis had yet to reach, are likely to remain in place long after the virus is deemed to be under control.

The normal day-to-day difficulties have now been magnified considerably due to the crisis. It has added barriers, limited visitations, reprioritized care and increased capacity. These already demanding conversations which clinical and non-clinical staff conduct are now heightened, as added patient emotions of apprehension, fear and uncertainty have been added to almost all clinical conversations. How our patients feel in these moments, how these messages of restrictions are delivered, and how we continue to provide “hospitality”” even in tough times, will truly be the greatest test.

Today we ask the frontline team members dealing with COVID-19 to rely on their training and instincts on how to communicate with patients however, I believe it is essential that very advanced human behavior sessions are provided to best prepare for the new realities we face. These types of actions need to be at the heart of all administrator’s strategic plan for the future of each healthcare business, as the private sector will drive the path to a solution. It is irresponsible to wait for government, as our government has proved it cannot be relied on to think and act strategically to support the frontline team members shouldering the crisis.

The world has changed already and will change further. Our behaviors and attitudes toward health are evolving as this crisis creates increased awareness of our surroundings and the people we interact with. We will become more aggressive in our approach to be more involved in the care of loved ones. The social perception of a cough, a sneeze, hand washing, glove procedure or even touching your face will increase. Heightened protocols will remain in place resulting in grievances about having our temperature taken every time we enter or leave a facility or being limited to the number of visitors allowed or perhaps even more restrictive visiting hours.

These are real issues that healthcare professionals (clinical and non-clinical alike) will face which is why these individuals must be provided opportunities to discuss, understand and practice delivering uncomfortable messages. These skills needed go far beyond usual hospitality complaints, because at the root of every comment, question, observation or complaint in any healthcare facility is a sick or very sick human being.

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Next week I look forward to focusing shift the conversation to the aviation industry, who faces turbulent times, faced with uncertainty on how passengers will react, while balancing how to best support team members.