As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drastically affect the health center workforce, the second season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success dives deeper into the immediate and long-term effects of this crisis on health centers. In this episode, ACU’s Michelle Fernández Gabilondo interviews Julie Meiman, Chief Human Resources Officer at Family Health Centers in Kentucky, about the professional and emotional impact of the pandemic on the health center workforce and the importance of incorporating self-care into the changing landscape of managing during the time of COVID.
Transcript by Rev.com
Introduction: Welcome to the COVID-19 installment of STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success which features the voices of workforce leaders from health centers and primary care associations around the nation. We know this invaluable information will help in your journey to advance the workforce initiatives of your organization.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Welcome everybody. My name is Michelle Fernández. I am the senior training specialist here at the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved. Today here at the STAR² Center, we’re very excited to have Julie Meiman, she is the chief HR officer at Family Health Centers in Louisville, Kentucky. Welcome Julie.
Julie Meiman: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: We’re very excited to have you and the expertise that you will bring to this podcast. So I’m just going to go ahead and jump right into our first question. And you work at a health center. So as you know, health centers were started by communities for communities and aim to build a workforce that is reflective of those communities in which they serve. So with that in mind, can you just tell me a little bit about your health center, where it’s located and the patients that you serve?
Julie Meiman: Absolutely. We began in 1976, our first health center in the commonwealth of Kentucky was established by the Louisville Jefferson County Board of Health. And its mission was to improve access to high quality primary and preventative health services for residents in primarily the urban Louisville metro area. With this came a freestanding board of governors with members from the diverse communities that we serve. Born in 1979, we received our first federal grant under section 330 of the public health service act which established the organization as a federally qualified health center. In 1985, the organization changed its name to Family Health Centers. And a few years later, the organization was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, our mission, vision, and values consist of providing high quality preventative healthcare without regard to a person’s ability to pay.
Julie Meiman: We also offer our patients the same care and attention we want for our families as well as ourselves. We think we do this best via the quality in our services, pride in our work, continuous improvement, diversity and inclusion, teamwork, as well as lifelong learning. All of which are our stated values. Currently we have eight sites spread throughout Louisville, and we have the honor of caring for about 42,000 folk ranging from infants to adults. Our patient population of 36 Black or African-Americans and 55% Caucasians. We’re also proud that our Hispanic and Latino patients make up about 22%. And this is a growing number. Currently 25% of our patients are best served in languages other than English. Our latest statistic shows that we are able to assist in about 30 different languages. Another fact is that 75% of our patients are at or below the poverty threshold and 11% of those we graciously serve are homeless.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Thank you so much, Julie. That was great. It’s always so interesting to hear about all the different health centers, all of the populations that you serve and the work that you’re doing for your community. So the next question, which is actually probably one of my favorite questions is about you and about your professional journey. How did you get to your role and how long have you been there?
Julie Meiman: Thank you, Michelle, for asking that question. My HR vocation and I do look at HR as a vocation instead of just a career kind of focus, my vocation started a little bit over 27 years ago. Gosh, it’s hard to believe that. I started life out at the University of Louisville and got a degree in English with an emphasis in secondary education, but I was going to teach English to high schoolers. But sadly at that time, full-time teaching jobs with benefits were very few and far between. So I found myself with little hope that I was going to find a full-time teaching job. I was very fortunate and that I had great friends and family who did have connections within our community here in Louisville. And I reached out to folks that would refer businesses to me and just try to get my foot in the door and really pretty much would just be willing to talk with anyone that would give me an informational interview.
Julie Meiman: My quest wasn’t necessarily to find a job but that would’ve been cool, but I just kind of wanted to get some ideas on how an English major with a teaching certificate could possibly utilize her education and skills in another business adventure. Thankfully, I got a job at a bank here locally and gratefully along the way, I had the honor of being mentored by a small cadre of very intelligent, strong women who had guided me to form within me my foundation of human resources and my love for human resources.
Julie Meiman: Once I was in that job at the bank for a little bit, I decided to go back to university and get my master’s in human resources management, and definitely was able to thankfully pass the SHRM certification tests. And I think these mentors coupled with my education and continued focus on lifelong learning, I think that’s really helped me have a firm foundation and bedrock for the professional that I am today. I’ve worked in non-profit and for-profit organizations. Right now, I’m in the healthcare field and I’ve also cut my teeth on the financial services industry, as well as manufacturing and had the pleasure of serving as a specialist, really starting in recruitment and training, and then moving onto more generalist roles, not only as an individual contributor working on teams, but I also was able to get into senior leadership.
Julie Meiman: And now I’m attaining my ultimate career role as a chief HR officer in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. How I got to the Family Health Centers? That’s a great question. I started out as a temporary contractor in 2017. And throughout that, once my assignment ended, I went to work for another organization with a really and sincere hope that I would be able to come back and work for Family Health Centers. So when the chief HR officer role became available, I was contacted by a member of the executive team and I was ultimately, and I’m so thankful that I was the lucky one chosen to be part of the organization in that role. I’ve had the great honor of serving our employees and patients for almost two and a half years now. And I have to admit it, it truly has been a grand adventure thus far.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Well, I can definitely say that it’s wonderful to have you in the health center family. And part of the reason that I love this question is because everybody has such unique journeys to get here, but yeah, there’s always the same passion and drive for that mission. So thank you so much for sharing that with us. The next question, and I think this is something that is on everyone’s mind, the COVID pandemic. Obviously working in a health center, this has created a lot of uncertainty especially among the health center workforce. And then in your role as a workforce expert, what have you identified as being the main stressors and difficulties that this pandemic has put on clinicians and all of the staff working in your health center?
Julie Meiman: Oh goodness, where do I begin? I suspect that the main stressors and difficulties have been number one, probably the concern for the unknown. I know folk have been asking questions cause they’re talking to me about these. It’s like, when is this madness going to end? Where are we on trying to find a cure? A lot of folks have seen some of their friends and family members who have not been able to work due to the industry that they’re in. So I think in the back of some people’s minds are thinking, gosh, are we going to be able to keep our doors open? I’ve had a few individuals who’ve called me personally to say, Julie, I’m really struggling with this because I think I’m on the front line and what risks am I taking? And am I putting my family at risk because I’m being around people who may have contracted COVID-19?
Julie Meiman: Another big thing is in our employment population, we have a lot of single parents and they’re asking the questions, since schools are out, how am I going to be able to keep my job and help my children at home? I think there’s also a concern for personal safety and personal health like preforming essential functions of our roles here. And I have a strong sense that self care and compassion fatigue seem to be a challenge for a majority of our staff.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more on the compassion fatigue and the self care that, I mean, in a way it has always been there and I’m sure it has only kind of grown with this pandemic, but thank you so much for your answer. I know that is such a huge question. And I think you are a workforce leader, but I’m sure that in many ways, even though being in that position, you’re asking yourself the same questions so.
Julie Meiman: Right. Yes. I’m human too, believe it or not, I’ve got to take off the HR cape every now and then.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Right. Exactly, exactly. None of us are robots. So it’s like you try to help others, but also just as important, like you said, that self-care portion of it. So as I say that, I am going to ask you another big question for authority regarding this. So how can workforce leaders, again, from the perspective of you’re not robots, you are people and you’re experiencing this in the same way as anybody else, but how can you contribute to that overall success of the health center, especially as you try to juggle the pandemic itself and then the health and safety of the staff and then potential recruitment and retention issues resulting from all this. And like I said, I know that’s a very big question, but it’s really any advice that you can really bring to people in your position.
Julie Meiman: Right. That is a big question. And I think if we had the answers, we would help out a lot of people. Just sort of off the top of my head, I think that our leaders, they need to be open and honest with themselves as obviously as well as their staff. I think that you’ve mentioned several times that we’re human beings, we’re not robots. And that leaders need to work out their own concerns in a healthy way hopefully focusing on self care and just trying to stay healthy themselves. And I think that if they can model that, then they can encourage their employees to do the same. I think which this may be elementary, but just staying calm and collected as humanly possible are all also good ideas.
Julie Meiman: I know that’s hard because sometimes we as leaders get frustrated and we get scared too, but I think being calm and collected is just so necessary. I think it’s helpful if leaders sincerely check up on their employees, whether they’re working side by side with them or at the sites, or maybe their staff is teleworking, maybe give them a buzz or shoot them an email and also reach out to those who are home, maybe because they themselves are sick or maybe they have children that they need to stay home with for alternate school.
Julie Meiman: I think that also it’s okay with maybe not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next or what the organization, how the organization is going to respond and being courageous to be able to admit that, but then they have to follow up next with, I think, teamwork and that we all must work together to develop realistic, actionable solutions with employees and critical others. I think that we also have to have candid conversations about what worked and what didn’t work. And of course leaders need to ensure that all of this information is documented somewhere safe, what actions were taken and what are chosen path forward at each of these stages is. And my eternal hope is at the end of this pandemic, that we can find ways to celebrate our teamwork, our tenacity and recovery, and be better for having endured this pandemic.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Thank you. Yes. I could not agree more. And again, I just like how you bring that human aspect to it. We’re all human, we need to be empathetic, especially during this time more than any other place and the self care component. The best advice I ever received was if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anybody else.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Exactly. Exactly. So thank you so much for being here today. I think you’ve offered wonderful words of wisdom to all of our listeners. So again, today we were speaking to Julie Meiman, the chief HR officer at Family Health Centers in Louisville, Kentucky. Thank you so much, Julie.
Julie Meiman: Thank you, Michelle. It’s been a pleasure.
Closing: Thank you very much for joining us today. We hope today’s conversation provided you with ideas, suggestions, and insights into ways you can approach, adjust to and mitigate the immediate and long-term changes COVID-19 brought to your health center. Also check out all of our free workforce tools and resources found at chcworkforce.org.