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APU Business Careers & Learning Health & Fitness Leading Forward Mental Health Podcast

Podcast: Servant Leadership Focuses on Employee Needs During Crisis

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Podcast featuring Cynthia Gentile, Faculty Member, School of Business and
Dr. Marla Deibler, licensed clinical psychologist, Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia

Healthcare providers have faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode, APU business professor Cynthia Gentile talks to psychologist and business owner, Dr. Marla Deibler about how her practice has adapted to providing telehealth services. Learn about issues with licensure laws, which have caused disruptions to care for college students, for example, who are now learning remotely and located in a state where clinicians aren’t licensed. Also learn how she’s created and expanded business policies to help employees manage all the changes to their jobs and personal life, and why everyone needs to be especially mindful of their own mental health during this crisis.

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Read the Transcript:

Cynthia Gentile: Welcome to the podcast Leading Forward. I’m your host, Cynthia Gentile. Today’s episode is the first in a series of conversations with women business leaders, on the personal and professional effects of the pandemic. I hope this discussion can add to the growing cache of resources available to leaders of all stripes around the changing image of success, and the relevance of agility and grit in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Today, my guest is Dr. Marla W. Deibler, a licensed clinical psychologist, and the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, a multi-site outpatient behavioral healthcare practice specialized in the evaluation and evidence-based treatment of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Dr. Deibler currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, and on the faculty of TLC’s Professional Training Institute. She serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of OCD New Jersey, the New Jersey affiliate of the International OCD Foundation; as consultant on behalf of the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders; and as visiting clinical supervisor at the Rutgers University Psychological Services Clinic.

Dr. Deibler is a frequent media contributor and has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, Today with Megyn Kelly, A&E’s Hoarders, TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive, and Swift Justice with Nancy Grace.

In addition to news broadcasts, she’s been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Life Ed with Maria Shriver, CNN, The Huffington Post, Today, and Vice, among other news outlets. She’s authored articles for publications such as Slate, book chapters, and research findings in peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Deibler is dedicated to educating other professionals and the greater community about mental health and wellness. Dr. Deibler, welcome to Leading Forward. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

Dr. Marla Deibler: Thanks so much for having me.

Cynthia Gentile: Well, as we record this podcast, we’re about nine months into the pandemic in the United States of America. The upheaval caused by differing messages at the federal, state, and county levels has created many challenges for all citizens, but business leaders have been dealt a particularly difficult hand.

They’ve been tasked with leading their businesses, despite shifting services, worried employees, changing regulatory landscapes, and financial uncertainty. Marla, can you share a little bit about the services The Center for Emotional Health provides, and how those services have shifted since the start of the pandemic?

Dr. Marla Deibler: Absolutely. So I’m a clinical psychologist, and my group is a group of mental health care providers. I provide psychological evaluation and treatment of a range of psychiatric disorders, specialized in those relating to anxiety and what we call the obsessive-compulsive spectrum.

As you mentioned at the top of our chat, I’m involved with quite a bit of other roles as well, including other leadership roles, advocacy and outreach in my field. Beyond my clinical work, I own and operate a practice of 26 staff members in three locations, and now via remote telehealth services.

Prior to COVID, my typical workday look largely the same as it does now, but a little bit different in that I would see patients in the office, I’d supervise post-doctoral fellows, I might attend a staff meeting, and I would take care of administrative practice management tasks, but COVID has changed some of my day-to-day routine.

Fortunately, we were relatively forward-thinking in terms of how our business is set up, so we already had electronic means of communication in place prior to the pandemic, and transitioning to remote work wasn’t nearly as challenging as it might’ve been, and as it had been for many other kinds of health care providers.

But since our state’s emergency declaration in March, about 95% or so of our services are now remote, and they’ve been remote since March. We’ve been working almost entirely through telehealth and other kinds of online platforms to provide our services and to communicate. So essentially, now I’m working from home. I’m using technology to provide clinical services, communicate with my staff, and manage everything related to my business.

[Related: Telemedicine Advances Expand Patient Services and Care]

Cynthia Gentile: Well, it’s great that you had some risk management procedures in place before you needed to really implement them. The thing that I find really interesting about your work in relation to the pandemic is that, of course, there is an increased need for professionals with your area of expertise.

But your own employees may also be struggling with challenges because of the pandemic, perhaps childcare issues with schools being closed down, financial issues of their own. Have you had to deal with, as a manager, any of those challenges from your employees and how have you approached that?

Dr. Marla Deibler: Yeah, there have been a number of challenges faced by the business, as well as the employees. I’d say we’ve had challenges in three different categories, which all relate to the smooth functioning of a business, and ultimately, ensuring that we, as a business, maintain our cash flow and our ability to function in all the services that we provide, which ultimately also ensure that my employees are well-supported.

So I would say that our greatest challenge has been related to the greater healthcare world adaptation to the telehealth environment, trying to ensure the continuity of care that we provide for our patients, and make sure that claims are processed with insurance companies, has been a bit challenging in terms of the insurance company is changing their rules constantly, and state and federal mandates are also changing. So that’s been a unique challenge in terms of the business as a whole.

Our second obstacle has been the need for licensure laws to quickly adapt, in order to provide telehealth services. Prior to the pandemic, licensure laws were simple, in that psychologists needed to hold a license in the state where they practice. So for us, everyone holds a license in New Jersey, or in the case of fellows, a permit to practice in New Jersey, and we saw patients in our offices, which are located in New Jersey.

Now, some of us, including myself, are also licensed in a couple of other places like Pennsylvania, since that’s so nearby, and we were seeing a small number of patients, maybe a handful via telehealth prior to the pandemic. So we already had some experience with telehealth, but not to the extent of moving everything remotely.

So unlike onsite services, telehealth is governed differently. Telehealth services have different rules. Most states consider the location of services as the location in which the patient is located at the time of the service.

So this posed a significant and immediate challenge for us, in that we have an office, for example, adjacent to Princeton University. And when Princeton transitioned their classes to distance learning, they sent all of their students home, and as you might imagine, university students dispersed across the US.

So that left us with a big challenge of trying to figure out how we were going to continue to provide services to our patients, who were now spread out in a number of different places, many of places in which we were not licensed.

And state mandates, federal mandates were slowly shifting and they continue to slowly shift, and the system continues to adjust, but that’s been a challenge.

And lastly, it’s important to me that I ensure the direct support of my employees to make sure that their own well-being is attended to, as well as that of their families.

And this has meant ensuring that we stay connected to each other, now that we’re outside of the office and not engaging with each other interpersonally on the same site. Moving our meetings and consultations to online platforms, conducting online surveys to assess for additional employee needs, and implementing new strategies and policies to ensure that everyone feels supported.

For example, I added dental benefits to our medical benefits options for employees, and I stabilized or sometimes increased our compensation during the eight-week period following the transition to telehealth services, to ensure their financial stability.

I also try to be mindful of the need to check in with each other’s psychological well-being, because 2020 has presented a unique situation for psychologists in particular, in that not only are we treating patients’ psychological symptoms, and we’re helping them with their concerns and their uncertainties regarding COVID, and all of the other significant events that have happened in 2020 and continue to happen, but we also hold our own.

And so, it’s been important to me to check in with those folks. So I check in with my employees and I facilitate discussions about how we as individuals, also living in 2020, are doing, and then I listen to their needs and I remain flexible in considering policy changes.

So, for example, I implemented an Election Day policy promoting participation in our democratic process and provided time to do so, so that they wouldn’t have to worry about taking time off.

I’ve adjusted our policies in terms of adjusting to the needs of individual employees, such as adjustments to their schedule due to childcare needs, or just facing burnout. Providing telehealth service is a lot different than sitting in a room with a person. Staring at a screen and talking at a screen all day is, in many ways, a bit more draining. And so, I had to be attentive to that.

I’ve also made adjustments in terms of my efforts to continue to foster team relationships, since we’re not together right now. So for example, rather than host our annual dinner that I typically host for employees and their partners in August, I arranged for a virtual tour of Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, Japan, for employees and their families, which was a really cool virtual experience for everybody.

And I also provide a rewards and recognition program for employees that is experience-based. So that company that provides those services expanded to include online experiences, so those who have earned rewards have had a really cool range of options to explore different kinds of experiences from the comfort of their homes, or outside and outdoor activities, as a way for me to communicate my appreciation of them.

Cynthia Gentile: Wow, you sound like pretty much the most perfect boss. I’m curious what your thoughts are as to whether you think that the changes, the shifting landscape with regard to telehealth, and the regulations around that are here to stay. Or if you think that you’ll, once again, be asked to sort of shift your business model when we do emerge from this pandemic?

Dr. Marla Deibler: I do think there will be a shift. Right now, the shift is not linear, there’s a little bit of progress, then a setback, and a little bit of progress, and a setback, in terms of some of the healthcare industry’s adaptation to what this might look like.

I do think that telehealth services will likely continue, but federal regulation and insurance companies are going to have to adjust to continue to support the provision of those kind of services, because they’re not typically supported in terms of being able to get reimbursed for those services, and licensure requirements have to continue to evolve and change, and they are.

There are pacts that have been created, like there’s something called PSYPACT, which allows for interjurisdictional practice if you are licensed in a state, and you’re providing services in a state that is also part of the pact. So, I mean, there is forward motion, but it’s a process for sure.

Cynthia Gentile: That’s great that it’s two steps forward, even if we do have one step back, but it is putting a lot on you, as the director and the founder of your business, to continue to lead your employees through these troubled waters. How would you describe your leadership style? Have you had to alter your leadership style during the pandemic?

Dr. Marla Deibler: I’d say my leadership style is employee-focused, with the greatest value being placed on work-life balance and meeting the individual needs of each employee, whenever possible.

In general, my philosophy is that if I take care of employees and make them feel valued, then that’s going to be reflected in their work, and we’re going to take better care of our patients, and our patients will be happier with the services we provide. And so, it’s a good self-reinforcing cycle if we set it up to provide that kind of forward motion.

So, by staying in touch with the overall well-being of my employees and remaining flexible in my policies and procedures, that’s kind of how I stay in that space, and that approach hasn’t really changed much due to the pandemic. That’s really how I’ve always approached leadership, but I’ve definitely increased my efforts tenfold to ensure that my employees are continuing to feel well-supported since I’m not physically there to just pop my head in and say, “How are you doing?”

Cynthia Gentile: That employee focused sort of servant leadership is certainly well-suited for this type of world event, but it is very challenging on the part of the employer. What prepared you to lead your employees and other stakeholders like patients through these difficult days?

Dr. Marla Deibler: Well, first, I think it’s been really fortunate that prior to the pandemic, I valued the use of technology as a way to best flexibly facilitate our services, and ensure not just interoffice communication, but also interpersonal communication, both in the office and offsite, and that’s really served us very well because the transition has really been pretty smooth.

And it may go without saying, but being a psychologist who specializes in anxiety has really been the thing that has most prepared me for this moment, and my employees as well. But it’s still a uniquely challenging moment because we’re still human.

Cynthia Gentile: Sure, and you’re frontline workers, in a lot of ways, during these most difficult days. So have you encountered anything that was a surprising challenge for you on the personal side because of the pandemic, and our federal and state response to it? Have you had to work through any sort of your own childcare challenges or other pieces of that puzzle that we’re all dealing with?

Dr. Marla Deibler: Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a challenge. I’ve always really valued work-life balance, and some of that requires a constant monitoring, just in terms of my personality, because I have a tendency to want to sink my everything into work.

And so, being able to maintain a good work-life balance has been achievable, but something I’ve always had to pay attention to in the past, but now that we’re remote and I’m working from home, it’s much easier to blur those lines.

There’s really no separation between work and home, in that I’m working a lot more than I think I did before, and I really need to pay attention to that balance.

Cynthia Gentile: Right, it’s really hard to find that solid stopping point when the office is just right around the corner from the kitchen, or whatever it is in your house.

So do you have any advice or strategies that you would share that keep you focused on success, and maybe how your definition of success, if it has changed at all during the pandemic, how has it changed?

Dr. Marla Deibler: I don’t know that my definition of success has changed. I definitely went through a period when I was younger earlier in my career, where my definition of success changed. I focused more on defining what success looks like from my own vantage point and from my own set of values, as opposed to what I thought others perceived, or what I thought the field perceived as being “successful.” And that I think continues to guide me in terms of what I do in my career, what I choose to do, and how I perceive myself.

All the tools that I use, clinical tools that I use as a psychologist, I really live those strategies. I’m mindful of my own thoughts, and feelings, and bodily sensations that show up, and sometimes those things that show up on the inside are barriers for me.

And I recognize those barriers in terms of those internal experiences, and I intentionally choose to maintain forward motion in the service of what’s important to me as an employer, as a healthcare provider, as a business owner, as a mom, as a wife, in my life. So, I think the most useful tool is just being able to be aware of, being mindful of your own internal experience.

And rather than struggle with those experiences, whether they’re difficult thoughts or difficult feelings, to allow those difficult experiences to be there, especially now, because we’re in a really difficult spot in terms of our world, and our country, and the pandemic, but to maintain focus on orienting yourself toward who and what’s important to you in your life, so that you can continue to move forward in that way, which in the end, is adaptive for you, and also is helpful to others in your life.

Cynthia Gentile: Thank you so much, Marla, for talking with me today, and for sharing your experiences and your perspectives on this episode of Leading Forward. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Dr. Marla Deibler: Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it as well.

Cynthia Gentile: And thank you to our listeners for joining in. Be well, and be safe.

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