Englewood Health, the healthcare organization with Englewood Hospital at its heart, just won the Leapfrog Group’s award as Pandemic Hero of the Year.
The award’s a nationwide honor, and it’s been given in recognition of the institution’s care of both its patients and its staff, who have been through horrors as northern New Jersey took its early-in-the-pandemic place as its epicenter.
“We were thrilled to win this award in particular, because in the midst of the pandemic, it allows me personally to step back and thank each and every team member throughout the entire system,” the system’s CEO and president, Warren Geller, said.
Leapfrog — which calls itself “a national nonprofit organization driving a movement for giant leaps forward in the quality and safety of American health care” — was acknowledging Englewood Health’s understanding of the value of relationships and of communication — of talking and listening, of caring and trusting.
The pandemic has made face-to-face communication far more difficult than it used to be; health care workers, like the rest of us, see far fewer faces, and much less of each face, from farther away.
“Our communications have been topnotch throughout this crisis, but you lose a lot of interpersonal interactions, of seeing people in the hallways, of seeing their smiles,” Mr. Geller said. “You miss being able to walk into a patient’s room and giving them a squeeze on the foot and telling them they’ll be okay.
“So to be able to announce that the Leapfrog Group has chosen one organization across the country, and that the organization is Englewood Health — that is a testament to the close to 4,000 team members who make up our organization.”
Leapfrog particularly mentioned “our overall team effort and response to a pandemic that was new to all of us, and they specifically noted several of our initiatives that we implemented at the height of the surge,” Mr. Geller said. “We communicated with our patients and their families with the physician liaison team. That’s a group of providers who were not providing direct care to covid-19 patients.” They found themselves often at loose ends, in fact, because their patients were afraid to come for treatment. So they were able to use their skills to reach out, explain, and empathize. “That means that they could connect with families, and the other providers” — the ones treating covid-19 patients — “could focus all of their efforts on direct patient care.”
Leapfrog also honored Englewood Health for “how quickly and seamlessly we launched our telemedicine program,” Mr. Geller said. “During the peak of the pandemic, we were providing over 2,000 telemedicine visits a day.” That mattered because diseases other than covid were not stopped by the omnipresence of the virus.
“Our human resources department was recognized for our employee assistance program, providing access to mental health services, both internally and externally,” he continued.
“It specifically pointed out the employee relief fund we established. That was a challenge to the senior leadership team. We put aside funds to directly help those team members who were struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.
“I put down a donation, and I asked the team to match it. Not only did they match it, they exceeded it. We ended up with close to $400,000. That will allow us to continue assisting them into the future, as needs arise.”
The award also was “about how we process-engineered all of our systems to, number one, immediately address the issues in front of us, and number two, and maybe even more importantly, to be nimble, and adjust as needs changed, and as we learned more and more about the science of this disease.
“From my perspective, it is a direct recognition of our nurses, our physicians, the multidisciplinary team members, and their commitment in caring for the communities that we serve.”
Mr. Geller talked about how patients’ needs, and therefore the hospital’s response, has changed over time, and how therefore the response to the next wave, should it present itself to Englewood, will be different.
“We have more tools in our arsenal now,” he said. “More therapeutics. We know more about the illness, and how it plays out. We have been able to adjust our facilities, our supply chain, and everything else that is needed in a multifactorial approach to beating this thing.
“What gets me most, and makes me most emotional, is the way in which each and every team member didn’t hesitate to step up and put aside everything else that was going on in their personal lives to care for others, under very scary circumstances.
“You can’t pretend that this wasn’t a big deal. It was. It still is a very big deal. And they are beyond selfless.”
There are moments of high emotion, Mr. Geller said. “Way back, when we had a clap out for the successful discharge of our 500th patient, I remember seeing the emotion. I can’t say on their faces, because I couldn’t see all their faces. But I could see their eyes, and see how many tears were being shed, because people were able to share in the good news.
“It is so heartwarming to see everyone step away from the daily grind for just a very brief moment. It just exemplified the fact that we certainly all are in this together.”
Masks make people safe, of course; they’ve also helped Mr. Geller up his skills. “Without question, I have gotten better at reading eyes,” he said. “I for one am a mouth reader. When I see people with masks on, when I can see just their eyes, it was a major adjustment for me, even in my management style. I do think that everyone has gotten better at reading eyes, and also at reading body language.”
The staff has exhibited great resilience, but “it’s not over yet,” Mr. Geller said. “We are still in the throes of it. People are still grinding it out on a daily basis.
“At the height of the pandemic, we redeployed 250 team members into different roles. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation. And it still is.
“My biggest concern, after this is really, truly, finally in the rearview mirror, is going to be exhaustion, PTSD, and behavioral health challenges,” he said. “We need to make sure that all the resources are available, in a multitude of ways, for any team member who may need to access them.”
That, however, is a future worry. We’re not there yet. In the meantime, Warren Geller wants to offer “a bow and a thank you to everyone in the organization,” he said. “That is what I want to take away from the recognition.
“That it truly goes to everybody.”