Health Systems Supporting Frontline Workers Mental Health

Before the pandemic, mental health initiatives for medical staff were put on the back burner. Many studies reported high Physician burnout rates and experiences of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a feeling of low personal accomplishment. 

COVID-19 has had a major impact on an already stressed field. So now more than ever health care organizations and leaders need to invest in initiatives and programs to support health care workers.  

Dr. Matthew Norman, an Atlanta Psychiatrist who provides mental health services to Emory residents said, “They’ve yet to take a deep breath. It’s only when you take a deep breath that you are able to recognize the toll of the stress and the strain of what has transpired.”

Multiple hospitals are offering the Code Lavender program that offers rapid-response emotional support to health care workers from trained practitioners.

It’s called lavender for the calming effect associated with that aroma.

David Carl, Atrium hospital chaplain said, “Code Lavender means you have something impacting your emotions that has thrown you off. I can’t think of anything that has knocked us off our game more than the coronavirus.”

The Code Lavender team usually comprises representatives from the spiritual care and healing services departments, and other hospital-based support services (such as employee assistance, music therapy, wellness, the ethics consultation service, and art therapy), and volunteers.

Vail Health created a COVID Incident Command team to help boost morale among the staff. They bring food to health workers during shifts and offer yoga and meditation breaks. 

Cody (Wyoming) Regional Health created a wellness area to provide a calming place to recover the mind, body, and soul. The new space, staffed 24/7, includes a meditation room, eight bedrooms with private bathrooms, laundry and shower facilities, on-site access to licensed therapists for emotional support, puzzles and games, and an exercise area to meet employee needs.

Elise Phelan, a surgical unit charge Nurse with UCHealth created the Resilience Program where she would bring in massage therapists, movement therapists, yoga instructors, nutritionists, and sometimes therapy puppies. 

Oschner Health set up a pop-up grocery store in its cafeteria where staff can purchase essentials, such as bread, milk, eggs, and orange juice. It filled sidewalks with chalk messages of encouragement at employee entrances. And the health system set up relaxation areas with calming music, low lighting, and other amenities.

For years, front-line workers have had few places to turn to for help. But the future is hopeful. The most recent COVID-19 Relief Package includes $140 million in funding to promote mental health among health care professionals and first responders. This funding will allow more opportunities for frontline healthcare workers to receive proper mental health treatment. 

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