Employee Occupational Health: The Heroes Behind the Heroes

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May 12, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Most healthcare organizations have an employee occupational health (EOH) office that supports team members, new hires, and the overall healthcare workforce. These remarkable nurses and clinicians are often considered “back office” and are engaged in assisting the healthcare staff with anything from new-hire processing, facilitating the annual flu shots, accommodations assistance, team member health, mask fittings, etc. In most healthcare organizations, EOH is part of human resources (HR) and tasked to care for the overall health of the workforce.

During this Nurse’s Week 2020, I want to pay special tribute and thanks to this group of nurses who truly are the heroes behind the heroes caring for our communities.

How often have you read an article before COVID-19 in any HR publication that focuses on employee occupational health as part of the overall strategy?

I would say not often, if even at all. When I was given the opportunity pre-COVID-19 to lead this remarkable team, I was intrigued to understand the capability set of this group and improve the operational aspects of the function. I was fascinated by the way it aligns with the overall HR function to support the business and the frontline heroes, caring for those that care for our communities.

This journey, partnership, and engagement with this group before COVID-19 made me realize that they are one of the core team caring for our workforce. In the pre-pandemic state, this group’s core mission was team member health and safety, which is the essential piece of all people organizations. With COVID-19, safety has reached a whole new level of meaningfulness, and the role of this group became ever more essential.

The COVID-19 world and the role of EOH

With the start of COVID-19 pandemic, through immediate engagement and strategic vision from our executive leadership, it was determined that workforce well-being is a priority, and at the core of caring for our communities. Our EOH team had suddenly been put at the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. Not only this, but the strategic execution and resilience of this team came to the forefront immediately. With most of the staff being experienced clinicians, they immediately turned their focus in readiness mode, keeping team members’ safety at the forefront.

As part of the fight against COVID-19, the vision of this team evolved around the need to scale up, inject technology, and develop clarity in an ever-changing situation to ensure that our workforce is safe. The operating model had to be resilient in a situation that was changing by the hour.

The following principles were established immediately and ramped up within a few days:

  • Enhance communication to create clarity for leaders and the overall workforce through all available communication mediums.
  • Develop detailed algorithms that define COVID-19 screening, testing, results review, and, ultimately, the return to work process in close partnership with infection prevention.
  • Extend support 24/7 to all team members enabling engagement via multiple channels from phone to digital engagement.
  • Be that calming voice for all frontline workers and leaders that are concerned about their own and their family’s safety while caring for our communities.
  • Continuously analyze and adjust to the ever-changing situation.
  • Execute on a scalability plan to train and deploy additional support when and as needed.

As frontline workers, day in and day out are taking care of our communities, and the EOH office mission is to support those heroes by ensuring that their safety is at the forefront of all that we do. For those of us that are privileged to be engaged in this work, it is an honor to support 29,000 team members and countless thousands of alternative workers across multiple states. They have our communities’ health at the forefront, and we have their well-being at our forefront!

Post COVID-19, will EOH now be considered part of the strategic plan for HR?

As we are all still navigating this pandemic, one thing is clear – for viable healthcare organizations in our communities, offices like the EOH are essential to ensure we are prepared to take care of our team members. I am confident that the misconception of this team as transactional in nature will shift as they have earned their badge as heroes in this fight for our health.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.