Now that the emergency phase of COVID-19 has come to an end, organizations should take the opportunity to review “lessons learned” from their response to the pandemic. What procedures worked well? What didn’t work? What should you do differently next time (because there will be a next time)?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recommends regular reviews of emergency response plans to support organizational resiliency. Ask these 10 questions about your organization’s response to COVID-19. If there are areas that need improvement, initiate actions, assign ownership and incorporate updates into your organization’s “pandemic preparedness plan” for use in future health emergencies.
1. Did we effectively communicate with employees?
Industry research suggests that agility and strong communications allowed some companies to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 crisis than others. Was a targeted, informed and coherent COVID-19 educational campaign delivered? Did we provide opportunities for employees to ask questions and give feedback on the organization’s COVID-19 response? How was misinformation managed? Should we employ/consult a public health resource to help provide clear and accurate health messages in the future?
Were the methods of communication effective (e.g., emails, social media, apps)? Were communications quickly updated whenever changes to the COVID-19 response plan occurred? Were communications translated into additional languages as needed? Are these communications channels being maintained and do employees know how updates will be sent during future emergencies?
2. What were the best sources for surveillance?
What sources provided the quickest and most reliable updates on COVID-19 case rates, government mandates, travel bans, and developments in testing/vaccines/treatments? Are permanent procedures in place to monitor these sources and before a new threat (like bird flu) escalates into a crisis? What triggers are linked to these surveillance reports to activate the pandemic or crisis management plan?
3. Were employees reassigned to work full-time on COVID-19 response?
Did answering employee questions and managing the logistics of the organization’s COVID-19 response plan become someone’s full-time job (even if it wasn’t their job)? Do new roles or engagements with consultants need to be established specifically for future crisis management preparation and response? Are all roles and responsibilities currently assigned for business continuity teams and crisis management teams?
4. Were there any COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace?
If there were clusters of employee COVID-19 cases in the workplace (multiple employees from the same department / area sick at the same time), it could indicate that the workplace was the source of transmission. What infection control policies were in place at the time? Were masking policies effective? Were adequate social distancing / cleaning practices implemented and monitored? Is ventilation inadequate in that area of the facility? How can infection control practices be strengthened to reduce transmission risk for all infectious diseases going forward?
5. Were any occupational health or workers’ compensation citations received?
OSHA’s General Duty Clause applies to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19. It states that employers must facilitate, “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” States and municipalities may also have standards that require employers to protect employees from infectious disease threats like COVID-19.
Was the organization cited by occupational health authorities and/or workers’ compensation groups for not taking necessary steps to protect employees from the recognized hazard of COVID-19? Have these employee safety issues been fully addressed and documented?
6. Has the facility’s ventilation system been upgraded?
Has the facility’s ventilation system been upgraded, and is it being maintained to improve indoor air quality? This is an important investment, not only for COVID-19 prevention, but to reduce risk from all infectious diseases and provide a health-promoting environment for people with allergies or asthma. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has a one-page guidance document, Core Recommendations for Reducing Airborne Infectious Aerosol Exposure, that workplaces can implement with the help of their HVAC provider.
Good indoor air quality may also help promote the bottom line. Research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School and Public Health has demonstrated that workplace air quality can have significant impacts on employees’ cognitive function and productivity.
7. Which healthcare providers did we rely on for COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and treatments?
Which local healthcare providers did we rely on during the pandemic? Are relationships with these providers being maintained? Consider reaching out to your network of local healthcare providers to discuss partnerships for proactive healthcare initiatives in the workplace. Seasonal flu/COVID-19 booster vaccinations, tobacco cessation programs, nutrition and exercise programs, and blood pressure/BMI screenings are examples of campaigns that can help improve employee health and wellness. Research estimates that every $1 spent on employee wellness programs saves about $6 dollars in medical care and absenteeism costs.
8. Were PPE supplies sufficient for our organization?
The 2020 global shortage of PPE caught most organizations off-guard. Did the organization have enough PPE for employees (e.g., cleaning staff, face masks for employees and visitors)? Which vendors were the most reliable for sourcing high-quality/credentialed PPE supplies? Is an adequate stockpile of PPE being permanently maintained? PPE expires—are supplies being monitored and discarded when they expire? Is there a process to replenish the PPE stockpile to replace expired supplies?
9. Did we stumble during our transition to telework?
Did we have enough equipment/supplies to switch to teleworking quickly and effectively? Are we maintaining enough telework equipment in case we need to quickly switch to telework in the future? Was there adequate IT support for teleworking employees? Were clear policies implemented for clocking in/clocking out, schedules, meetings and reporting? Were teleworking employees provided adequate education and support? Examples:
• Ergonomic workstation arrangement.
• Tips/support for managing stress—provide education on how to access mental health support (e.g., Employee Assistance Program).
• Tips for productivity.
• Tips for working with virtual teams.
• Tips for remaining healthy and active.
10. What worked? What didn’t work?
Take a moment to reflect on the organization’s overall response to COVID-19. What grade would you give the response (A,B,C…F?)? Which procedures/policies worked best during the pandemic? Why? How can these lessons be applied to current operations and to future health emergencies? Have these “lessons learned” been incorporated in your crisis management and pandemic preparedness plans so your organization can be better equipped next time? (Because there will be a next time).
Courtney Mindzak, MPH, M.Ed., and Myles Druckman, MD, are members of the International SOS Medical Consulting team for the Americas region.