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Person-Centered Care and Caring Communication, Now More Than Ever!

The COVID pandemic has been a powerful reminder that we live in a complex and unpredictable world.   Despite this, teams implementing Planetree and Language of Caring around the world are coping, adapting, and managing in the face of these challenges. How do we know this? Because from the onset of the pandemic, they have been sharing the full range of their experiences with us – their struggles and their successes. The insights we have gained have been encouraging, enlightening and educational.

Here, in the spirit of community-building and shared learning, we present six important themes that have come to light. We hope these insights not only inspire, but also help you to chart a path forward for responding to any crisis that comes our way with compassion, humanity and partnership.

1. “Now, more than ever!”

When the pandemic first hit, some leaders believed they had to set aside their improvement initiatives because staff members were consumed by COVID challenges.  However, very quickly, people came to see person-centered care and caring communication is more important than ever — the very foundation and driver for responding effectively.  And they actively applied all that they had learned to make their care extraordinary.

  • “The Language of Caring foundation gave us the ability to not only adapt, but to thrive in the most challenging situation we’ve ever faced.  It was applicable five years ago, when our hospital was just functioning in a normal healthcare environment, but never more important than today. I don’t know what we would have done without that foundation.”
    Patti Bradley, Sr. Director Patient Experience, North Kansas City Hospital (United States)

  • “Our organization´s cultural strength of Person-Centered Care has been one of the elements that has supported us in coping with this situation. The teamwork, solidarity, empathy, and compassion that we have strengthened in these years have been elements on which we have developed our resilience.”
    Henry Gallardo, CEO of Fundación Santa Fe de Bogota (Colombia)

2. A pre-existing culture of caring and person-centered care positions teams to deal with a shocking, sudden surprise.

In the wake of COVID, people in the Planetree International/Language of Caring community have told us that person-centered care and caring communication have been powerful drivers of experience redesign, innovation and communication.  These laid the groundwork for a QUICK response to the unforeseeable crisis.  Such successes have given staff confidence about facing harrowing surprise events in the future.

  • “The Planetree framework and the culture change that resulted put us in a great position to deal with the COVID crisis. We already had people-centered practices in place and we applied them in our relationships with our patients and families and within our team.  We’re very grateful, and quite frankly, lucky to have worked so hard that we were ready.”
    Dr. Roland Matthews, Medical Director, Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Health System (United States)

  • “The fact is, focusing on caring communication with purpose has created a tremendous amount of energy in our organization. When people are so fatigued, we remember that people are human beings first. And they’re working for you and with you second.  That’s how we’re getting through. The Language of Caring keeps us focused on our purpose and the essential elements of human compassion and human connectedness. It has made SUCH a difference!”
    Dr. Thomas Smyth, President and CEO, University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center (United States)

  • The staff at Hamad Medical Corporation have “… all this energy, why? The people working in healthcare are special because they have something inside them, they want to help the patient! They are very, very passionate about, doing something, for the patient, for the family, for society. Caregivers feel that they are patient guardians. Anyone working in healthcare is special.”
    Mr. Nasser Al Naimi, Deputy Chief of Quality, Center for Patient Experience and Staff Engagement and Director, Hamad Healthcare Quality Institute, Hamad Medical Corporation (Qatar) 

3. Even in challenging times, the essential role of family as members of the care team must be honored.

Even organizations with strong and long-standing foundations of supporting family presence and involvement found those commitments tested during the pandemic. Rules that limited family presence were implemented for the sake of patient, family and staff safety.  This presented a wrenching challenge that commanded considerable attention and creativity in order to achieve the delicate balance between safety, risk and compassion.

  • “The pandemic has hurt everyone’s ability to make in-person, human connections, and such relationships are so important in health care.   We have worked hard to convey the message that we want your safety first and we also know that you want to be with your loved ones.  We’ve managed safety while also doing everything possible to support patients and families and helping them connect with each other.”
    Malek Almoosa,Chief Executive Officer and Sara Almoosa, Marketing Director, Almoosa Specialist Hospital (Saudi Arabia)

  • “As soon as we could do it safely, we started to allow care partners back in for our patients. We’ve had support from our leaders and people across the organization who agreed, ‘Let’s try to do this until it’s not safe to do it anymore, as opposed to the other way around.’  This happened because of the culture here, because of our emphasis on patient-centered care.”
    Pam Dunley, President and CEO and Megan Sulich, Manager Patient Experience, Elmhurst Hospital (United States)

  • “At first, we focused on regulations and trying to keep people safe. With our commitment to person-centered care top of mind, we then focused on making personal contact with families, so they knew their loved ones were okay. We also built a coordinated visit program in which we trained two family members per resident to safely come as essential care partners.  Our Recreation Team also prompted sharing of pictures so families could see what’s going on in their residents’ world.”
    Shelley Shillington, Director of Operations and Planetree Coordinator, Loch Lomond Villa (Canada)

4. Caring for our staff is a quality imperative.

Airline stewards tell us, in the event of a crisis, put your oxygen mask on first before you attend to your kids.  They know that ultimately, your child’s well-being depends on your own.  Over and over again, our conversations have reinforced the pivotal importance of attending to staff needs to foster employee health, morale, teamwork and effective care.

  • “Because it’s a caring culture, we’re pretty good at caring for the caregiver. People really are doing a good job of touching base with each other, and connecting with one another, and doing whatever they can to keep connections going.”
    Dael Waxman, Medical Director, Patient-Centered Programming, Atrium Health Mercy Hospital (United States)
  • Our Planetree person-centered approach pushed us to consider our staff as people first and engage them in working out the best ways we could all take care of ourselves while we worked together to keep people safe and give them the best care possible.”
    Amanda Moody, Director, Planetree Institute at Sun River Health (United States)

  • “We’ve attended to our staff –going around to all the houses and doing huddles, so staff feel connected to the big picture, feel appreciated, and remain person-centered and caring. We’ve helped both staff and residents feel a sense of well-being in spite of their fears.  And we’ve made sure to LISTEN to needs and ideas so we could keep improving.”
    Shelley Shillington, Director of Operations and Planetree Coordinator, Loch Lomond Villa (Canada)

5. Caring Communication Isn’t Just “Nice.” It’s Critical to Delivering Quality Care.

The events of this past year have underscored that a strong focus on foundational caring communication skills, especially during stressful times, is essential to positive and healing interactions with patients, their families and between care team members.

  • “Another casualty of COVID has been that our best communication tools were removed from us, because of the protective equipment. Our patients feel estranged from us, seeing us only through a mask, a visor, gown and gloves. We only have body language and our voices to let this patient know how much we care about them. So, we took all of our language of caring skills–the skills from all 10 modules, and we applied them to PPE. We rethought how we could acknowledge feelings, do blameless apologies, and communicate our empathy…We really had to step up and make communication happen, because we know that’s the foundation of trust and reassurance, and is what our families and patients really needed the most.”
    Patti Bradley, Sr. Director Patient Experience, North Kansas City Hospital (United States)
  • “We have the mission of loving service and compassionate care.  But during a crisis, it’s so easy to default just to “head” communication.  Because of Language of Caring, we now fall back on the Heart-Head-Heart method to make sure our caring comes across in a compassionate, heartfelt way.”
    Brenda Johnson, Vice President Patient Experience, University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center (United States)

6. Leadership support provides a foundation of trust.

Inevitably, leadership is tested during a crisis.  It has been fascinating to hear perceptions from leaders and staff alike about the most critical actions taken by leaders to nurture a trusting and caring culture. Common elements include projecting honesty and confidence, communicating again and again (and again!), being decisive, yet adaptable, and staying positive.

  • “I just think that our leaders’ level of transparency has really been valuable. Every time there’s a major change, staff know that that we’re going to communicate, and that’s what helps them get through.  They don’t just have to worry. They know there’s a way that they can get real information.”
    Pam Dunley, President and CEO and Megan Sulich, Manager Patient Experience, Elmhurst Hospital
  • “On weekends, [our CEO] comes in, sits down and listens to staff and says, ‘Tell me what you need. Tell me what’s going right, tell me what’s not working and what I can do for you.’ And now all the VPs are sharing the responsibility and rounding on the weekends. We also realized that all of our leaders needed help. They’re tired and stressed as well. So, we did a 4-part series on resiliency with Language of Caring, which energized our leaders and staff. Leaders explored how our actions and behaviors affect staff resiliency, and their ability to take an extra shift or care for the challenging family or patient. And during the series, the leaders asked that we run the series for staff too, since we ALL needed to realize we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.”
    Bradley, Sr. Director Patient Experience, North Kansas City Hospital

The heart of the matter

The testimonials shared here evidence that person-centered care and caring communication have been vital to organizations’ abilities to withstand the intense strain placed on our healthcare systems by the pandemic. Indeed, compassion, partnership and caring communication have carried us through these tumultuous and uncertain times. Let them also propel us to a future where they become the norm in ALL healthcare interactions for ALL patients, family members and healthcare workers.

Click here to sign up for our upcoming webinar:
3 Steps Towards a Post-Pandemic Culture Reset

Thursday, April 1 at 11:00am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT-4 GMT)

In this webinar, we will share a 3-pronged approach for re-setting your organization’s culture, starting with:

  1. taking stock of the state of caring in your organization;
  2. prioritizing staff, leader and physician well-being and
  3. working to create a healthcare system that works for all by understanding and addressing the impact of biases and social determinants on patient experiences and outcomes.

Register today to hear more about three new offerings to tackle these challenges.