Even though they are experienced, steadfast and professional members of the healthcare profession, our caregivers were not immune to the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. From the start of the pandemic, we recognized the importance of keeping caregivers safe, informed and motivated during a time of immense stress and rapid change, and implemented numerous processes and programs to ensure they felt supported and recognized.
In 2020, we transformed our internal communications approach to ensure transparent, frequent and empathetic communication to our 70,000 caregivers across the United States and four countries.
We created a COVID-19 toolkit in January 2020 to be the main source of information for the latest COVID-19 processes, guidelines, resources and news. The toolkit is easily accessible from our intranet and available on an external site for those caregivers not on the company network. In March 2020, we revamped our caregiver intranet—a key source of caregiver information—to a dedicated COVID-19 news site and launched a daily all-caregiver COVID-19 newsletter.
Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, Cleveland Clinic CEO and President, delivered timely communication on a near-daily basis. This included 34 videos in which he took caregivers behind the scenes of our surge hospital construction and into the ICU to see critical care of patients, and interviewed top leaders to review every detail of our coronavirus response—from research efforts to business recovery.
Our internal communications team produced 17% more intranet content from March-December 2020 than in 2019. All intranet content is open for caregiver comments, and our team developed personalized responses to all relevant questions and concerns. According to caregivers, Cleveland Clinic succeeded in providing transparent and frequent communication. The most significant improvement in our June 2020 caregiver engagement survey was the number of caregivers indicating that "executive leadership provides open and honest communications."
A key part of our internal communications strategy is flexibility, which enabled us to address the evolving pandemic and support our caregiver family. By keeping caregivers informed, we fostered safer environments for our caregivers, patients and visitors.
When COVID-19 rose to pandemic levels, it became even more critical for us to support our caregivers and their families. Numerous departments across the enterprise used their individual and collective expertise to develop and staff support services for our caregivers, especially our Office of Caregiver Experience (OCE). Some initiatives to support the health and well-being of our caregivers included:
- 24/7 phone line staffed by our behavioral health clinicians for confidential emotional support
- Housing program for eligible caregivers in Ohio and Florida who provided direct patient care and wished to shelter away from high-risk members of their families
- Scrub laundering service for northeast Ohio caregivers who were providing continuous care to patients that had tested positive for COVID-19 or were suspected positive
- Pop-up market on main campus that sold household essentials, such as fresh produce, dairy and paper products
- Caregiver hardship fund that generated $3.8 million for 3,000 caregivers impacted by the pandemic with unexpected, serious financial issues
- Connecting Caregivers online community with resources, information and discounts on childcare, elder care, pet care, virtual learning, tutoring, food delivery, healthcare, well-being and other services
- Formation of our Caregiver Support Team (CST), which delivered 75,000 meals in 2020 through:
- Our "Grab and Go" program, which provided caregivers continuing to care for patients on-site (all shifts at ten regional hospitals and main campus) a four-pack of dinners to take home to their families
- Home meal delivery for COVID-19 positive caregivers and those living in their households
- 32 comfort stations for caregivers in areas that had recent spikes in inpatient volumes, which CST stocked with various energy-boosting snacks and drinks
Additionally, many local businesses showed gratitude for our caregivers by donating meals, refreshments, care packages, supplies and other items.
Transporting drinks and snacks from Aldi to a caregiver comfort station
Caregiver Support Team (CST)
To support COVID-19 positive caregivers, the Office of Caregiver Experience conceived, developed and deployed the Caregiver Support Team to address our caregivers' very real and human needs during home-quarantine. Upon diagnosis, the CST ensured COVID-19 positive caregivers had a single, dedicated individual with whom they could speak about their experiences and needs throughout their journey until they were authorized to return to work. Services provided by the CST included daily calls, working with local catering companies to schedule meal deliveries for caregivers and those in their households, sending needed household supplies and assisting with appointment scheduling. Further, to enable COVID-positive caregivers to focus on their recovery, Cleveland Clinic provided each caregiver up to four weeks away from work, fully paid, without needing to access their vacation or sick- time benefits.
At the onset of the pandemic, Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, President and CEO announced that Cleveland Clinic would not layoff or furlough any caregivers, nor change employee benefits, including healthcare and retirement. When safety restrictions curtailed non-critical patient services, we pivoted to provide caregivers ongoing work, which included assuming new temporary roles for many. Throughout 2020, our caregivers were members of a powerful, flexible workforce community who used their expertise to address the organization’s and community's rapidly changing needs, which included staffing COVID-19 testing sites, temperature screening stations and more.
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, Cleveland Clinic directed caregivers whose responsibilities did not require them to be onsite to work from home. We provided support to remote caregivers to help them maintain their productivity, accountability, engagement and connection with the larger enterprise through a centralized site with online training programs and resources. Our Information Technology team responded swiftly to support the transition to work from home by distributing 3,500 laptops, 1,200 phones and 850 headsets, and increasing capacity for remote access (VPN) from 5K to 25K caregivers. Due to the high number of caregivers working remotely during the spring 2020 lockdown, we eliminated caregiver parking fees in April and May. We also offered one-on-one virtual coaching for Cleveland Clinic leaders to help them address challenges and maintain healthy teams.
Caregivers Travel to Assist In COVID-19 Efforts
Cleveland Clinic caregivers worked to contain COVID-19 not only at our locations and surrounding communities, but also volunteered to support other healthcare organizations with staffing shortages during the pandemic. In 2020, 68 caregivers traveled to New York (New York-Presbyterian Hospital System) and Detroit (Henry Ford Health System) to assist with COVID-19 care. Caregivers included critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, board-certified critical care and emergency medicine physicians, physician assistants and CT and X-ray technicians. During their service, caregivers continued to receive pay and benefits from Cleveland Clinic with no interruption, and our Office of Caregiver Experience provided meals for caregivers’ families while they were away. Our caregivers also traveled abroad to provide support to other members of our Cleveland Clinic family in Abu Dhabi in 2020.
Our caregivers and teams consistently go above and beyond, and we were exceptionally proud of the ways our caregivers rallied around our patients, fellow caregivers and communities in need during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Our caregivers demonstrated courage, leadership, empathy, creativity and teamwork, and we were filled with gratitude for their hard work and dedication to our mission. Our caregivers are our heroes and we made new efforts to recognize their many contributions in 2020.
To recognize caregivers for their teamwork and service, we introduced Hero Huddles. Part of virtual rounding and our tiered daily huddles, we used Hero Huddles to identify individual caregivers and teams for their exceptional efforts and inspiring stories. Our executive leaders personally recognized these caregivers who were identified as going "above and beyond" in caring for our patients and each other. We recognized over 226 caregivers enterprise-wide through our Hero Huddles and even distributed "healthcare heroes" cookies to our caregivers. We shared Hero Highlights of the week on our caregiver intranet and on our Kudoboard.
In light of the COVID pandemic, we replaced our 2020 Annual Caregiver Awards ceremony with the COVID-19 Heroes Award to recognize outstanding contributions of caregivers and teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about our COVID-19 Heroes Award recipients.
Kudoboard and Signage
On March 27, 2020 we opened a digital “kudoboard,” to collect and share heartfelt words of encouragement for our caregivers. Throughout 2020, caregivers received thousands of inspiring notes, images, works of art, stories and video messages from individuals around the world, including fellow caregivers, patients, visitors, community members, local sports players and Cleveland Clinic leadership.
To help show our appreciation for our caregivers, we placed signage at more than 80 locations thanking them for their selfless contributions to patient care. We also produced ‘Caregiver Hero’ yard signs that our caregivers could pick up for free at several locations to help them express their support and gratitude for one another.