Supporting frontline workers through the pandemic
Katy Branch, and so many others at UCHealth, will never forget that day: March 13, 2020.
That day marked the first time a patient had died in Colorado of what was soon to be named COVID-19. UCHealth rose to the moment, issuing PPE guidance, new policies, PPE, and a flood of vital communications.
For all of us, everything changed that day.
“I think March 13 is forever burned into our minds,’’ Branch said. “And my reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, how do I help?’’’
As a senior organizational development consultant in UCHealth’s Human Resources Department, Branch’s role is to support, inspire and develop leaders to create an extraordinary experience for everybody.
In the crunch time to support bedside care givers, nurses, respiratory therapists, techs and more and face a deadly pandemic, Branch’s role took a backseat to the crisis at the bedside. So whatever she could do, she did.
She volunteered to monitor the front door at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, delivered meals multiple times a week to free-standing Emergency Departments in southern Colorado and when she went home at night, she baked homemade cookies and delivered them to her co-workers.
“I wasn’t able to provide support in my area of expertise because we just needed to take action for the pandemic. So volunteering for shifts and working everything I could was a way for me to feel like I was part of the team,’’ she said.
In the past year, Branch has resumed her normal job duties. These days, she listens intently when exhausted caregivers come to her for advice and solutions on how to settle conflict among teams. COVID-19 has ravaged lives and delivered collateral damage of disconnection – in families, communities and the workforce.
“COVID in our society and our culture has driven disconnection. Our masks, staying 6-feet distance apart – all of that drives disconnection and humans are wired for connection,’’ she said. “The PPE that our PPE staff has been in, the fact that we’ve had to tell patients and their visitors that they can’t visit each other, except through a screen, all of those steps that we took for very good reasons have actually driven emotional disconnection.’’
In recent months, she has given employees the safe space needed to work through emotional side effects that come with disconnection and fractured relationships.
“People want to be heard and not judged. In health care, lives are on the line when we don’t make a quick judgment and make a decision quickly. And for a lot of us, it is hard to turn that off and just listen, and not make a decision or come to a conclusion about whatever we are listening to.’’
Her goal is to help employees evaluate the situation and then answer the question: What do you want to come out of this?
If it sounds like Branch is a therapist, she is not. She is an advocate for the resurgence of human connection and giving people the space to process the new norm.
“It is having that patience and the energy to display that same compassion with everybody that we come in contact with. I think that is really important right now.’’
Months into the pandemic, Branch is extremely busy trying to do everything to support UCHealth workers.
“The extra that we do, handing out food, distributing food in the evenings, the rounding that we did with the sustainability committee the first time around, for me that was a way to feel like I was contributing because I can’t do what a nurse does,’’ she said. “And I have so much respect for what they do, and I wanted for them to be able to do that and not to worry about packing a lunch. We delivered food, a year ago, we would pick up food and deliver to the free-standing EDs. Every time there has been an opportunity to show up demonstrably, I’ve wanted to do that.’’
She said that when stepping back and looking at the big picture, she believes that UCHealth has done a remarkable job caring for patients and employees.
“I think that is my role, to give them the space to step back. A lot of times, we’re not really going to think about the big picture, but when they have the space and they have the grace to explore on their own, they come to that. But I think that what has been huge with UCHealth is that their support hasn’t been a one-off. It hasn’t been placating, it has been a consistent. From the very first time that UCHealth said ‘Your job is protected,’ our leadership has followed that consistently at every turn.’’