Find out how this Thai hospital group is effectively managing their manpower during COVID-19

In the second of HMA’s two-part interview with the Deputy CEO of Thailand’s Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals, we find out how they keep their staff safe, motivated and happy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to read part one of the interview, which focuses on the strategies that Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals have put in place to prepare for Omicron.

For the last two years or so, healthcare providers around the world have had to work hard to overcome the slew of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as they endeavoured to continue providing the best possible care for their patients during this trying time.

It has been – for the most part – an unforgiving slog, especially for the frontliners, with the majority of them having to put in longer hours to help their respective hospitals cope with the deluge of COVID-19 patients.

Unsurprisingly, the ongoing battle against COVID-19 has taken a physical, emotional and mental toll on healthcare workers – according to this study by BMC Public Health, the pandemic was found to have had a considerable impact on the psychological wellbeing of frontliners.

Fatigue among healthcare professionals during the pandemic is a pertinent issue that the Deputy CEO of Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals, Dr Surangkana Techapaitoon, admits has proven challenging for hospitals to address.

“One of the biggest challenges that most hospitals, including ours, face during this period is with manpower,” Dr Techapaitoon said. “Having to deal with COVID-19 has taken a lot out of healthcare professionals, and many of them are feeling increasingly tired out.”

She added: “The period from May to September last year was especially bad with the Delta variant, and many frontliners had to work non-stop as there was a high number of patients who needed to be admitted to the ICU. As a result, staff had to take on more patients under their care.”

Dr Techapaitoon’s assessment of the manpower issue at hospitals is backed up by a recent report from the International Council of Nurses (ICN), which highlighted that the pandemic has “exacerbated the existing nurse supply shortfall”, with many nurses quitting their jobs, or taking an extended leave of absence due to burn out.

Unfortunately, the heavy burden placed on healthcare workers is not expected to ease up anytime soon, with a fifth wave of infections – driven by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant – expected to significantly drive up the number of COVID-19 cases in the coming months.

Recognising the importance of supporting and caring for their employees, especially during this critical period, Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals have enacted several strategies that are designed to help their staff get through the challenges of the pandemic.

Flexibility is key

The approach that Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals has taken to address their manpower issues is largely centred on ‘flexibility’.

To that end, they now offer both their existing nurses, as well as potential new healthcare workers, the option of working part-time.

Dr Techapaitoon elaborated: “For the new generation of nurses in particular, flexibility is very important. There are those who want the freedom to work multiple jobs, while there are others who have a preference to work at certain timings – for example, there are nurses who prefer to work at night, as they are busy taking care of their children in the day. So we have to be flexible to meet their requests, in order to keep their valuable expertise with us.”

Dr Techapaitoon added that they have pooled nurses from their different hospitals together, so that they are able to deploy them according to the current manpower needs of each hospital.

“We now have a nursing pool which we can tap on,” said Dr Techapaitoon. “This means that we have the flexibility of sending more nurses to help out at hospitals that require more manpower due to an influx of patients. After all, the COVID-19 situation is very unpredictable, so it’s important that we can respond to the manpower needs of our different hospitals as quickly as possible.”

Healthy, Wealthy and Happy programme

Dr Techapaitoon also revealed that Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals currently runs a ‘Healthy, Wealthy, and Happy’ programme – an initiative aimed at providing holistic support for their staff.

As part of keeping their staff healthy, for example, the hospital group specially set aside COVID-19 vaccinations for them and their family members.

The ‘Wealthy’ aspect of the programme sees the hospital group helping their staff out with their finances, as Dr Techapaitoon explained: “We did a survey previously, and found out that there were employees who were worried about their finances.

“After all, COVID-19 has also had a negative impact on the economy, and there are people – including spouses of our employees – who have lost their jobs during this period.

“So on our end, we try to help these employees by negotiating with the banks on their behalf to do refinancing for their debts. We also have a start-up company which educates our employees on how to spend wisely, as well as improve their credit score.

“We do all this because we understand that while we have many talented and dedicated staff, if they’re worried about their finances, it will still affect them at work.”

Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals has also developed an application which allows their staff to earn points through their work, which they can use to redeem for items in the shops. This point system, according to Dr Techapaitoon, helps to keep their staff ‘happy and motivated’ at their jobs, even during the busy periods.

Doing more with technology

One of the ways that Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals have tried to ease their healthcare workers’ workload is by utilising technology.

One key example is through their increased use of telemonitoring devices to keep track of their chronic patients’ vitals, like blood pressure and blood sugar levels, remotely.

“Whenever our patients use these telemonitoring devices, the results are keyed into a mobile application, which is linked to the hospital,” said Dr Techapaitoon. “We have an alert system, so if there’s any abnormality with the results, we can follow up immediately with our patients.

“This not only helps our patients be more aware of their health, and encourages them to lead a healthier lifestyle, but it also frees up our manpower, as we now only need to manage those whose results indicate that further treatment is required.”

Ultimately, the focus on staff welfare is something that Dr Techapaitoon insists Samitivej & BNH Group of Hospitals will continue with, as she said: “We understand that manpower is a challenging issue to tackle for most hospitals. But we believe that our staff are probably the most important to us – that is why we have placed, and will continue to place, so much emphasis on ensuring that they feel happy working with us.”