The COVID-19 pandemic has placed great strains on the physical and mental health of healthcare workers in the United States and around the world. To assist its healthcare workers, Stony Brook Medicine implemented a series of mental health support initiatives during the pandemic ranging from creating a respite area, providing comfort packages, holding virtual mindfulness sessions and posting support and wellness message tips throughout the hospital. The initiative, detailed in a paper published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, could serve as a model for other healthcare institutions.
“We learned that creating a full mental health support program for our colleagues requires a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort with the mindset that we are truly in this together,” said Adam Gonzalez, director of Behavioral Health and the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.
The team consisted of psychologists, nurses, social workers, physicians, physical therapists, other healthcare providers, patient advocates, chaplains, and IT and communications specialists. Some of the initiatives Gonzalez and co-authors highlight include:
- Psychiatric nurses leading the transformation of the pediatric psychiatry unit into a relaxing, peaceful employee respite area, resulting in more than 19,600 employee visits.
- Communications professionals creating employee-targeted digital signs in the hospital, daily email updates, and a wellness tip card titled REST (Relaxation, Eat, Sleep and Talk).
- The IT team setting up Microsoft Team channels to provide platforms for wellness information, daily mindfulness practices, and support messages.
- Physical, occupational and recreational therapists visited hospital units to offer de-stress exercises including stretches and mindful breathing and provided snacks.
- Chaplains developed a spiritual care hotline to provide support and to discuss concerns, stressors and spiritual well-being.
- The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health developed a helpline for employees and their family members, which provides immediate counseling and other resources, including brief COVID-19 mental health counseling. The Department also created a resources and resiliency hub at stonybrookmedicine.edu/covid19support.
“The mental healthcare needs of our staff varied in need and intensity at various times during the pandemic,” said Gonzalez. “Generally we found that creating a respite space and providing in-person support options is best when possible and that healthcare workers are less likely to participate in support groups and more willing to engage in ‘mindfulness meditation’ meetings.”