Since the beginning of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a lot of media attention paid to the relationship between female leaders at the helm of various nations, industries and the effectiveness of their handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in a collective common sense, mutual aid and humility are mentioned as common features of the success of these women leaders.
Dr Reem Osman – Group CEO of Saudi German Hospitals UAE, is an example in the region through how she led the organisation and her team while navigating the crisis.
Confronting this unique moment, Dr Reem shifted gears on how she led in expedient and ingenious ways. The changes may have been born from necessity, but hold great potential beyond this crisis.
Leading from the front
While some organisations isolated themselves, took the decision to work from home and downsized employee numbers, Dr Osman believes that ‘every CEO should be a front liner and lead from the front’. That is why during the peak of the pandemic, Dr Reem was physically present at the hospital, presenting a sense of calm and the emotional support so necessary for healthcare staff at SGH hospitals.
In the first two months of the pandemic there was ambiguity about the virus, everyone was in panic and fear. “When the front liners were asked to go to work in the hospitals, as humans, they were worried about themselves and their families, because every day they were at the hospital helping patients in their fight against the virus, and the chance of going back home with the virus was ever present,” said Dr Osman. Hence, it is the responsibility of the leader and the management team to increase the levels of trust and confidence of their front line and other staff members. Front liner teams such as doctors, nurses and paramedical staff cannot work alone without the support of the backoffice team like finance, QPS, HR, MTM and operations, as well as the marketing and support service teams.
Emotional support during the crisis
In such critical situations, emotional support is critical. Even when how it is conveyed or presented can be vastly or subtly different when coming from a woman as opposed to a man. However, it is generally agreed upon that women leaders are more inclined to offer better emotional support than men. Besides, studies also exist to prove that staff members feel more comfortable in sharing their emotional concerns and fears with a woman leader, a fact that has proven right in the case of Dr Osman.
“In general, emotional intelligence in women is higher than that found in men, and this enables me to sense and understand when my team needs my support,” said Dr Osman, who addressed her staff through e-mails and utilised Zoom to hold virtual staff meetings and created Whatsapp groups to be in touch with her team members at all times. These moves helped ease the situation somewhat and also allowed Dr Osman to remind her staff constantly about their duties and responsibilities, as well as about the Hippocratic Oath that they had taken as medical professionals, and to be in the service of humanity at all times, a fact people sometimes forget as humans while facing crises.
Reinforcing job safety and security
“During the start of this situation I sent a mail to all my medical and non-medical staff promising them that as a CEO it was my responsibility to ensure that no one would lose their jobs because of the pandemic,” said Dr Osman. “This made them feel safe and secure.” In fact, according to Dr Osman, the impact of this e-mail was tremendous, increasing employee confidence and providing the motivation and morale to allow staff to focus on their duties and responsibilities. This, of course translated into a very high recovery rate as well as high levels of service offered to patients, low mortality rate and high levels of satisfaction registering among both Covid and non-Covid patients.
In retrospect, Dr Osman believes that the decision on assuring job stability was one of the best actions taken during the pandemic, resulting in an increased sense of trust among staff members towards management and the sense that they were actually partnering in the success of the organisation.
The hospital prepared by starting the Respiratory Clinic for Adult & Pediatrics, with suspected/ patients with symptoms being transferred to the DHA/MOH isolation facility. For the safety and convenience of people and employees, SGH initiated the Mobile screening for COVID-19 as well as telemedicine and also initiated home delivery of medication for chronic patients. SGH UAE also obtained the license to start an isolation facility outside the hospital to treat and quarantine mild and asymptomatic patients During this period, the hospital made some changes to different rooms and departments to comply with the medical standards for quarantine. All this was accomplished through structured integration and coordination through various functions like a medical team headed by the Chief Medical Officer, supply chain, finance, infection control, facility, nursing, HR etc.
The actions initiated by SGH hospitals UAE has been monitored through various task teams. “We formed the Covid-19 task force team at the group and hospital level and conducted daily meetings,” said Dr Osman. “The Response and Management teams closely monitored and communicated with the health authorities on the actions taken and its status in line with every circular released by them. A daily isolation facility meeting was conducted to ensure that the hospitals were following stringent measures to ensure the safety and security of the patients and the staff.” In addition to the above there were daily meetings with the task force, and medical and non-medical teams that allowed the organisation to successfully rise against the pandemic and ensure SGH patients were being served at the highest levels.
Managing the fear
As a general hospital, while fighting against the pandemic, we need to focus also on non-corona patients, and balance the needs for our Covid-19 and normal patients, said Dr Osman pointing out, “One time our worry was the ‘fear of the people’. During quarantine people stopped coming to the hospital due to the fear of getting infected with Covid-19 and they neglected other health issues, which could be life threatening, such as heart failure, stroke, pneumonia etc. We took all the precautionary measures in order to ensure safe patient care and a work environment for our staff on a daily and continuous basis.
“Our responsibility didn’t stop by ensuring safety measures were in place for our patients and staff,” Dr. Osman said. “We continued with the awareness campaign using various media platforms that highlighted the safety measures, so that we didn’t want people to get scared of the pandemic and ignore other health issues that might worsen their life situation and lead to fatalities.”
As Group CEO, the challenge for Dr Osman was not in facing the challenge that the pandemic posed, instead it was all about how she could lead the organisation from turbulence to mormalcy in a smooth manner. In her words, “My approach was to act as per the requirement. When cases increased, we increased the number of hospital beds dedicated to meet the pandemic. While cases decreased, we adjusted accordingly.” She instructed her HR team to be prepared to adjust the staff Rota plan according to the need of the situation and the supply chain to ensure availability of consumables and supplies in surplus.
Back to the new normal
“Coming to terms with the new normal was no easy task,” said Dr Osman. “It all started with patient and staff education and awareness.” In her view, it is not clear when the vaccines would be made available to the general public and no one knows when the coronavirus would totally disappear, so the best tactic is to educate the staff and employees about the fact that one needs to cope with the presence of the virus without compromising on day-to-day routines.
She instructed her team to activate all the medical specialties and services in a smooth way. At the same time, she ensured that the crisis plan is ready to activate at any time in surge of need.
Learning from the pandemic
In Dr Osman’s opinion the pandemic taught everyone many lessons. And as the CEO of the hospital it reinforced Dr Osman’s belief that hospitals need to be flexible, clinical training must be agile and strong, and cultural competence and interpersonal skills are critical for any organisation to face the challenges the world is going through in 2020.
Facing the second wave
The knowledge gained during the difficult two to three months was successfully implemented at SGH Hospital in its day-to-day practice. It is the reason why with numbers increasing the medical and non-medical teams are still able to activate the backup plan step by step without resorting to any panic. All this could happen only with the confidence of the CEO, leading from the front.
During the pandemic, SGH also managed to be accredited by Planetree. The Planetree Certification is the only award that recognises excellence in person-centeredness across the continuum of care. SGH Dubai is the first hospital in the UAE and one of only 94 healthcare organisations worldwide to receive the Person-Centered Care Gold Certification since the programme’s launch in 2007.
Besides, implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) supports caregivers in the treatment process by providing deeper insight on a patient’s specific condition, lifestyle and patient behaviour in real time. The automation will also increase the efficiency of caregivers and patients by reducing the administrative manual work and provide the necessary information to patients like whether the service is covered by their insurance or not.
CARF International announced that Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Center of Saudi German Hospital Dubai has been accredited for a period of three years for its Outpatient Medical Rehabilitation Program. SGH Dubai is the first hospital in the UAE to get this award under outpatient rehabilitation program.
Dr Reem said, “Even during the pandemic, we did not stop our quality related initiatives, which is very important. It always proved and added value to hospitals during such challenging times.”
Dr Osman is proud of the fact that the SGH Group UAE did not stop its expansion plans for its upcoming Centres of Excellence and Medical College. “Even though the situation will pull us back and the speed of implementation slows down, the management decision was that we should move forward with the expansion plan,” she said.
Dr Reem said “We always maintained a high belief and confidence with regulators and authorities to tackle the crisis and stability of the economy in general, as our expansion is directly linked with the economy.”
The confidence and trust in the leadership of the UAE in guiding the country through the pandemic in a smooth manner, without really affecting the economy, allowed the hospital management and its CEO to stick to its decision of going ahead with the expansion plan as scheduled.