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Two Pandemics, One Solution: Why We Stand with Leaders on the Front Lines of Care

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Amidst headlines of fear and frustration, COVID-19 has also surfaced profiles of health workers demonstrating great courage, a value that we at the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation believe is an integral trait of frontline leadership. Millions around the world are newly aware of how we rely on health workers' trusted counsel and life-saving care. At the Center, we are intent on strengthening the leadership skills of nurses, midwives and community health workers so patients’ and communities’ best allies are empowered with the tools needed to strengthen health systems.

COVID-19 has called on healthcare leaders to be more agile and resourceful than ever before, so we are adapting and accelerating partnerships to provide up-to-date resources for frontline leaders. In our partnership with the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), we developed, “Leading Through Crisis: A Resource Compendium for Nurse Leaders,” a free compendium of brief online modules to equip nurse leaders with practical tips and effective strategies for addressing challenges unique to a crisis. To date, these materials have been sent to AONL’s 43,000 individual members, as well as the 5,000 institutional members of the American Hospital Association.

Moreover, leadership in addressing COVID-19 here in the United States also requires grappling with the impact of racism on health workers themselves and the communities they serve.

As Adia Harvey Wingfield, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of Arts & Sciences and Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Washington University in St. Louis, discussed in her recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, “Across specialties, I found that many [Black healthcare workers] were motivated to go into healthcare by a desire to help those who were least likely to access high-quality, compassionate care … Specifically, they wanted to provide respectful, effective healthcare to Black populations for whom this is rarely the norm…The emotional, financial and physical strains they face can go overlooked.”

We know this to be true for frontline health workers worldwide. The motivation to serve and bring quality care to all in the community is as true in Paris and Mumbai as it is in New Jersey, where I live.

At Johnson & Johnson, we have focused recent U.S. initiatives on supporting Black, Latino and Native American communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic through increasing access to critical health information, including:

  • Leveraging digital health tools: CareMessage provides community-based healthcare professionals in underserved areas free access to their COVID-19 messaging platform allowing them to send critical information to over 3 million patients in urban and rural areas via text messages in both English and Spanish.
  • Supporting those going door-to-door: Through Penn Medicine’s Center for Community Health Workers, we are helping hundreds of community health workers deliver virtual support to racial and ethnic minority communities in Philadelphia and other cities.
  • Keeping leaders healthy: Health workers leading through this crisis must also be able to care for themselves, lest we lose them to trauma or burnout. To support the well-being of those leading at the frontlines, J&J is partnering with Thrive Global and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health through First Responders First to deliver useful, accessible resilience resources and tools right to their smartphones.

Addressing systemic racism in health systems will be a long journey requiring engagement from across sectors. But at the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we will never stop listening to and supporting the leaders on the front lines who offers our best chance of healing communities and advancing justice.