One year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, members of the Brigham’s senior leadership team gathered to reflect on lessons learned from the past year, current areas of focus for the organization and the Brigham’s path forward in this next stage of pandemic recovery.
Hosted as a virtual forum for staff on March 11, the event featured a wide-ranging conversation between Sunny Eappen, MD, interim president and chief medical officer, Shelly Anderson, MPM, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Giles Boland, MD, president of the Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization, followed by an interactive question-and-answer session.
Eappen opened the discussion by acknowledging all that the Brigham community has endured over the past year.
“It has been really hard. I know it. I see it as I walk around and as I work. People are tired, exhausted and a little bit scared. The future, although I am optimistic, still remains a little bit uncertain,” Eappen said. “As leaders, all of us want to acknowledge that we appreciate the stress that all of you have been through and commend all of the work that you’ve done. It’s phenomenal.”
Anderson noted how the past year has reaffirmed the Brigham’s institutional values: We Care, We’re Stronger Together, We Pursue Excellence and We Create Breakthroughs.
“Our values are alive, and they’ve been achieved in many amazing ways over the past year,” Anderson said. “They are what will hold us together as we move forward into the unknown — but with a lot of hope — to the end of the tunnel that we’ve been in.”
Boland said he has been profoundly impressed by the resilience and strength staff have demonstrated in the face of such trying and prolonged circumstances.
“We’ve really worked hard together, and we’re so much better for it,” Boland said. “That goes so much to who we are here at the Brigham — our culture and the way we work together, the way we respect each other, the way we reach out. I know many of you stepped up and helped the organization and patients. In some ways, it has been the best part of my career to see this work we’ve all done.”
In reflecting on lessons learned over the past year, leaders noted how the pandemic’s challenges inspired a wave of innovation and agility as the organization embraced new ways of working. Examples include the rapid and successful adoption of virtual care, making equity a priority in everything the Brigham does and collaborating more closely across the Mass General Brigham system.
Looking ahead to the coming year and beyond, the leadership team highlighted several areas of focus, such as strengthening the institution’s financial foundation; elevating the patient and employee experience; advancing diversity, equity and inclusion through initiatives such as United Against Racism and a reinvigorated focus on community health; and developing structures to better manage performance and prioritization of initiatives.
The past year has also brought the importance of work-life balance and staff wellness sharply into focus. Leaders expressed their concern about burnout and asked departments and teams to reevaluate practices that don’t support staff wellness, such as holding non-emergency meetings outside of normal working hours.
“We have two modes right now, and one of them is crisis mode. I think we all have to take time to reflect and determine whether or not the issue of the moment is really a crisis or something that we can work on in a relatively normal fashion,” Anderson said. “People have been in crisis mode for a solid year, so we all need to start taking a step back and saying, OK, what are my personal boundaries again?”
In the face of so much transition, Eappen emphasized that change always requires balance.
“I was here when we first formed Partners and now Mass General Brigham. I have never seen the movement towards systemness and aligning like I have in the last six months or so, and I think it is really good. I am completely committed to working within MGB to create this seamless patient experience that goes across all our hospitals,” Eappen said. “I’m also committed to completely maintaining the phenomenal culture that we have here at the Brigham and the uniqueness that we have. We need both of those things to really grow and excel.”