Agility, Resiliency, and Repurposing Skills during COVID
By Dr. Marcy Stoll, EdD, MSN | CEO | ACEN
Undoubtably, everyone’s agility and resiliency has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be challenged in the foreseeable future. Students, faculty, institutions, and entire systems and the supporting infrastructure had to move quickly in Spring 2020 with as much ease and grace as possible to withstand the shock and permanent damage; they had to be in the best possible position for recovery. Doing so was not easy and remains an ongoing challenge. We all have stories to tell, and I believe someday we will be able to physically gather in the same room to share our experiences. Until then, we need to continue adding tools to our toolbox of newly learned skills and knowledge—and repurposed skills and knowledge.
In Spring 2020 the ACEN faced—as did all nursing program leaders and faculty worldwide faced—how to finish the work of that semester, and shortly thereafter, how to make decisions about Fall 2020. Fortunately, the ACEN is blessed to have confident, skillful, optimistic, and adaptable employees who are also great team players. Anticipating a state executive order to close our office, the ACEN leadership quickly developed a telecommuting policy for all employees to work from home. Fortunately, the infrastructure was already in place to successfully support working remotely; we never envisioned using the investments made in our business continuity plan for a potential disaster (such as a building fire or tornado) would be used for a pandemic. The last time your ACEN Staff worked in our offices on Peachtree Road was on Friday, March 13th. The irony of Friday the 13th seems appropriate now.
Staying focused on the mission of the ACEN and serving our nursing programs was and remains job #1. Often repeated in meetings was the mantra – “our job is to keep the trains running and running on time without anyone knowing we are doing it from home.” Doing so was and remains challenging; however, we inspire each other every day to find creative ways of successfully fulfilling our commitments to you and your nursing students.
With solid principles and practices already deeply established, like everyone we were redesigning and immediately deploying the delivery methods. We met, met, and met in meetings to move forward deliberately and with as much speed as judiciously possible. Within a short period of time, the decision was made that the Evaluation Review Panel (ERP) for June 2020 would be 100% virtual, that Fall 2020 site visits would be 100% virtual, and that the Self-Study Forum and Program Administrator Workshop would become online offerings. Then the real work began – making all this happen successfully. I believed the best thing I could do was support everyone, making sure they knew creativity was welcomed, ensuring the resources were available to be successful, and being there when they needed me but mostly staying out of their way.
That is the “front of the house” view of the ACEN. In the meantime, the “back of the house” was equally challenged. We had just started a major software conversion of our customer relationship management system (CRM), which is similar to a student information system. This project was suddenly a virtual project instead of face-to-face as originally planned. The 2019 audit was underway, which typically includes the auditors being in the ACEN office 8‒10 days; now this was a virtual project. Every piece of business, such as paying bills, routine banking, and sending Board of Commission decision letters became virtual. All these types of changes are familiar because you did it too, and I know you did an outstanding job distinguishing yourself through your response because you are a nurse, and nurses figure out ways to make things happen successfully.
While the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine is hopeful, success remains unclear. We are all taking things one day at a time. I know one takeaway is that some changes the ACEN made will become permanent changes. Going back completely to pre-pandemic days is not possible, and successful organizations do not try to go back after a disruption like this. Successful organizations and its people adapt to the “new normal” by integrating the opportunities presented by the challenges. In doing so, the organization and its people ultimately become better and stronger. My promise to you is that the ACEN is and will remain a successful organization here to serve you, your students, and the nursing profession for the decades to come. Thank you for everything you are doing and stay safe.