Culture & Leadership | Patient and Care Partners | Supporting the Workforce

Standing Up for the Workforce: A Message from the Global Patient and Family Advisory Board

It is well understood that whether or not patients or their care partners trust an individual healthcare provider impacts clinical outcomes and experiences. For example, a patient’s willingness to get crucial medical care, such as preventive screenings and mental health care, depends on how trustworthy they perceive a particular healthcare organization to be. Further, a critical area of focus for health equity—the fair and just opportunity for every individual to achieve their full potential in all aspects of health and well-being—is rebuilding trust with racially, ethnically and all other diverse communities. Breakdowns in trust have become more significant and complex during the pandemic. It is crucial for organizations to understand what experiences led patients and families to lose trust, how they might re-earn the trust of those individuals and how organizations can prevent those events from happening again. 

Patients and families know that the foundation of the delicate relationship between those receiving care and those providing it is built on dignity, respect and love. It goes to reason then that not only do we want to rebuild trust with our healthcare providers, we also have a strong desire to support the workforce. 

Many patients and families are aware of their role in relational issues and seek a true and genuine partnership with their care teams. Patients and families have witnessed the fear, frustration and exhaustion the healthcare workforce has endured since this pandemic began. Now, with serious staffing issues and a rise in incivility among those seeking care, support for the healthcare workforce is more important than ever. Many patients and families have expressed a desire to be a part of this effort.

Members of The Beryl Institute’s Global Patient and Family Advisory Board (GPFAB) have been engaged in meaningful discussions about these issues and have shared this sentiment; “The healthcare clinicians and staff have been taking care of us for all of this time; now it’s time for us to take care of them.” The GPFAB is providing an avenue to do just that through a campaign entitled “Standing Up for the Workforce.”

Foundational to this campaign are the seven core principles for patients and families who want to “stand up for the workforce.” These principles were derived from the 2022 Institute PX Paper “Restoring Safe Workplaces in Healthcare: A Commitment to the Human Experience” and shared in the paper’s reflection of the same name by Aimee Williamson. 

It should be strongly noted that this campaign is not meant to undermine the suffering or needs of patients and families who are seeking help, even if they do so in a way that is uncivil. At this time, much can be said for all the emotionally charged circumstances we are living in, and having patients and families show up with a higher level of frustration or fear is both to be understood and expected. We must care for those individuals as best we can and with as much compassion as we can find. However, for those patients and families who have the insight, desire and will to “stand up for the workforce,” we applaud you and want to support you on that journey. 

While there are many steps organizations and leaders can and should take to care for their workforce, the following are related steps patients and families can take: 

  1. Treat our providers and staff with the same respect and empathy that we ask to be treated with. Always remember that healthcare providers and staff are humans helping humans. 
  2. Recognize that we are part of the healthcare ecosystem and culture. Our behaviors and actions contribute to the well-being and quality of this arena, both positively and negatively. 
  3. Be informed consumers of healthcare. Do your part to be aware of and review any patient rights and responsibilities documentation, definitions of incivility or other patient-related policies and procedures provided. 
  4. Ask clarifying questions. We all know the role communication plays in escalating incivility. Patients and families also play important roles in maintaining effective communication. 
  5. Check our stress, tension and expectation levels while interacting with healthcare workers. I do not say this lightly, as I know nothing of more stressful than having a loved one in medical crisis. We do have a tendency to expect healthcare workers to be miracle workers, and while there are times they earn that title, we need to remind ourselves that they are humans too. 
  6. Take time to attend to our own mental health, including utilizing available resources more broadly. Healthcare crises are draining experiences for both the patient and family members. It is common to put your energy into the physical issues without addressing the psychological issues that come along with a major health concern. 
  7. Find ways to show appreciation and support to our healthcare workers. At times, that may mean standing up to friends and family to encourage the behaviors noted above.

Please share these seven principles with your PFACs and other patient advocacy groups. Consider how you might use them in the most meaningful way possible to improve your organization’s culture and current environment. 

Isabela Castro and Tony Serge 
Co-Chairs of The Beryl Institute’s Global Patient and Family Advisory Board

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