Healthcare Administration

Hospital Leadership Tactics During a Crisis


Hospital leaders are responsible for maintaining operations during emergency situations, such as a pandemic or natural disaster.

During times of crisis, professionals in hospital leadership roles must address practical challenges such as increasing staffing, communications, and access to resources, and also help employees and patients manage the emotional challenges of stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Future healthcare leaders can build the knowledge and skills they need to navigate crisis situations by earning a degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration.

Hospital Leadership Challenges During Emergencies

Hospital leaders can encounter a range of challenges during crises, which often emerge rapidly and unpredictably. As a result, hospital leaders may have to make split-second decisions to continue providing high-quality care amid the chaos.

Common healthcare challenges in disaster situations include:

  • Patient surges. Crises can lead to increased demand for care, such as during the spread of a highly infectious virus or in the aftermath of a hurricane. This influx of patients can drain hospital resources and overwhelm healthcare staff.
  • Lack of information. As crises unfold, hospital leaders may not have all the information they need to make quick decisions. For example, they may not understand how a deadly virus is spreading or how much damage a natural disaster caused.
  • Scarcity of supplies. Hospitals may run low on protective equipment, staff, medical machinery, and the space they need to provide high-quality care.
  • Emotional turmoil. Healthcare professionals may need emotional support as they work through disaster scenarios, requiring leaders to keep their teams engaged and alert.
  • Changes in scheduling. Crises can disrupt regular routines and processes, challenging hospital leaders to reorganize shifts and increase work hours to accommodate patients’ needs.
  • Need for future risk mitigation. Disasters aren’t always resolved quickly; they may continue to unfold over months or years. As a result, hospital leaders must prepare for new and unexpected challenges as they arise, and continue adapting their strategies as needed.

Hospital Leadership Tactics in Disaster Situations

Hospital leaders can employ a number of tactics to help their staff and organizations navigate crises.

Clearly Identify the Problem

Professionals in hospital leadership roles can use a six-step process known by the acronym POP-DOC to assess conditions and devise effective solutions:

  1. Perceive the situation, including all available information, perspectives, and variables.
  2. Orient yourself and identify current patterns, such as how a particular disease spreads.
  3. Predict what may happen, such as the continued spread of disease if people gather in the same space.
  4. Decide how to proceed based on those predictions.
  5. Operationalize those decisions by incorporating them into new strategies and procedures.
  6. Communicate the new operations to all necessary parties.

Leverage Trusted Relationships

Healthcare leaders don’t have to act alone. They can rely on trusted advisers, administrators, colleagues, and partners in local organizations to respond, build solutions, and delegate tasks during emergencies.

For example, hospital leaders can establish local incident management teams of managers, directors, and public health administrators to be on call during crises. Hospital leaders can also coordinate in advance with government organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, FEMA granted emergency funds to many hospitals, which helped cover the cost of protective equipment, medical devices, and overtime pay for staff.

Communicate Transparently and Frequently

Communicating regularly with colleagues, patients, and the public can help hospitals keep people properly informed about how to proceed in a crisis. Communication involves sharing health and wellness strategies, relaying new procedures, and providing consistent updates.

Communicating clearly and decisively can also help ease concerns and build trust between leaders and constituents. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, the Republic of Korea’s deputy minister of health and welfare hosted daily briefings, keeping the public informed about the country’s number of cases, guidelines for social distancing, and lockdown procedures.

Remember Self-Care

Leaders need to continue caring for themselves and their teams as they navigate crises. Otherwise, they risk burnout and damaging their own health, which could prevent them from continuing to lead their organizations and deliver care to others.

Toward that end, hospital leaders can encourage staff to speak up when they’re feeling ill or overworked, take breaks for their mental and physical well-being, and seek support as needed. Portugal’s Hospital Fernando Fonseca, for example, provides a psychological support hotline for health professionals working during the pandemic. Hotels near the facility also offer free accommodations to hospital workers who need rest and a place to self-isolate from their families.

Essential Hospital Leadership Skills

Hospital leaders should develop specific skills for guiding their organizations through disasters and managing their teams in times of crisis. Essential skills include:

  • Decision-making. Hospital leaders must be able to make rapid, informed decisions in crisis situations, such as deciding which resources should be allocated for emergency response.
  • Communication. Healthcare leaders have to effectively explain new policies and procedures to staff and patients, maintaining a calm, confident, and trustworthy demeanor in times of crisis. They will also have to clearly break down complex and sensitive issues, such as gauging and managing the spread of life-threatening illnesses.
  • Organization. Crises can breed chaos, so hospital leaders must be prepared to maintain order and adapt to new logistical needs.
  • Social-emotional skills. Hospital leaders will have to help mitigate fear and stress, and motivate staff to continue working through difficult and often dangerous experiences.

Build Your Career as a Healthcare Leader

AdventHealth University Online’s Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration (BSHA) prepares future healthcare professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to build impactful careers in their field. As a national leader in healthcare, AdventHealth University Online provides resources for students to network with working healthcare professionals and drive change in this growing industry. Courses in key areas such as health management, health information systems, and human resources administration arm students with a range of leadership competencies for success.

Take the next step in your career and explore how AdventHealth University Online’s Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration can help you become a leader in the healthcare industry.

Recommended Readings
5 Types of Leadership Styles in Healthcare
How to Become a Nursing Home Administrator
What Do Healthcare Administrators Do?

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Communicating Effectively in a Crisis
American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Leading Through Crisis: A Resource Compendium for Nurse Leaders
Healthcare Financial Management Association, “Some Hospitals Pursue Coronavirus Assistance Through FEMA — the ‘Payer of Last Resort’”
Industrial Marketing Management, “The POP-DOC Loop: A continuous process for situational awareness and situational action”
International Hospital Federation, “COVID-19: Operational Crisis Management in Hospitals From a Leadership Perspective”
International Journal of Surgery, “Health Policy and Leadership Models During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review”
Medi Leadership, “Six Actions for Healthcare Leaders During a Pandemic Crisis”
Relias, “5 Strategies for Leading Through Crisis”
Sigma Theta Tau International Research Congress, “Crisis Leadership and Decision-Making: Hospital Administration and Nurse Leaders’ Concerns for Disaster Response”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

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