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Column | Leadership

Relief meets reality: The healthcare workforce is still reeling from COVID-19’s impact

Column | Leadership

Relief meets reality: The healthcare workforce is still reeling from COVID-19’s impact


As I write this, I have just returned from HFMA’s 2021 Annual Conference, an experience I shared with people at the event venue in Minneapolis and online. It was wonderful to gather together again, nearly two-and-a-half years since our last in-person Annual Conference. The sense of relief was palpable among people reconnecting after a long time apart: We made it through. It was tough, but we’re still here.

With the holiday season starting, it’s even more tempting to hold on to that sense of having made it through. But our relief is tempered by the reality of the challenges that lie ahead.

The reality is that the pandemic is still with us. As of mid-November, at least 35 states had seen daily COVID-19 cases trend upward over the two preceding weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University. In Minneapolis, we missed colleagues who were unable to travel due to pandemic-related limitations. And our healthcare workforce is suffering. This is the worst employment environment I have witnessed in nearly 40 years in the industry. Some clinicians have left the field entirely while many others report feeling frustrated, exhausted and even hopeless.

In healthcare, our biggest strength is our people. It’s imperative now, more than ever, to let our people know how much they are valued. As highlighted in HFMA’s Healthcare 2030 report on the workforce of the future, half of our workforce doesn’t feel valued by their organization or feels only slightly valued by it, which makes them even more susceptible to burnout.

What can healthcare finance leaders do? Start by taking the time to acknowledge how adaptable and resourceful our people are. Our finance and revenue cycle staff adjusted overnight to working from home, an arrangement that is great for some but difficult for others, such as parents with young children.

And we can also take the time to celebrate the miracles that happen every day — not just the miracle outcomes, but the miracle experiences. I’m thinking of times when our people succeed in replacing the pain, fear and anxiety of those who are ill with a sense of ease, confidence and hope; when they hold patients’ hands, literally and figuratively. I’m thinking of my daughter, who is a physician assistant, and the conversations she routinely has with patients and their families that go way beyond clinical care. During this holiday season, in particular, we should all be thanking the clinicians who gown and mask up every day and head back into the fray.

In Minneapolis, we presented HFMA’s highest honor, the Richard L. Clarke Board of Directors Award, to our nation’s frontline healthcare workers, honoring them for the miracles they create every day. Yes, challenges remain both in our industry and in our society, and they go far beyond the pandemic. But this is a time to celebrate all of you in healthcare — you are the heroes who have helped so many make it through this far. 

About the Author

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA,

is president and CEO, HFMA, Westchester, Ill.

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