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Behavioral Health

Mental Health Support for North Texas’ Frontline Healthcare Workers

How organizations are supporting their employees' health needs and reducing stress during the pandemic.
By Plamedie Ifasso |

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress exponentially for those on the front lines. Local health systems such as Medical City and the Center for Brain Health are offering mental health services specific to their essential workers.

Medical City Healthcare: Nurse Care and Code Compassion

Although medical professionals are good at taking care of their patients, they often forget to take care of themselves says Dr. Zach Mueller, division chief nursing executive at Medical City Healthcare.

“It gets to be a lot at times,“ Mueller said. “The pandemic exposed us to an array of emotions like grief, fear, loss, and loneliness, and you’d expect these feelings in a crisis. They make us human. But we don’t want to our people to have to deal with these emotions alone.”

The Employee Assistance Program is a longstanding program that Medical City has offered its employees. EAP allows staff to schedule phone or video sessions with a licensed counselor for free. Along with their EAP program, Medical City Healthcare has implemented two new programs to help their medical staff combat any mental health issues caused by the pandemic.

The Nurse Care program helps Medical City and HCA Healthcare-based nurses manage their anxiety, balance their work and life responsibilities, practice self-care, and handle common nursing-related issues. The program grants nurses remote access to licensed psychologists, alcohol and drug counselors, marriage and family therapists, and social workers. Nurse Care is free to the nurses and available 24/7.

The second new program Medical City started for its healthcare workers is Code Compassion. If staff is in crisis or experiencing compassion fatigue, healthcare workers can call and a response team reaches out to provide support.

“[A response] could look like providing support for their workload in that moment,” Mueller said. “It could be providing emotional support. It could be allowing them to have a break. It could be our chaplains engaging with them in prayer, but it really is a focused way to say ‘I need some help,’ so we respond as you would to a clinical code in a hospital.”

Along with the two new programs, Medical City and HCA Healthcare staff have access to the Optum Behavioral Health Sanvello app. Medical City partnered with the app to provide their healthcare workers free premium access during the pandemic. The app grants employees access to mood trackers, guided modules, community support, and coping tools.

The Nurse Care and Code Compassion programs will continue to be implemented, but the partnership with the Sanvello app was specifically created to help medical professionals during the pandemic and may not continue, Mueller says.

“We ask that our leaders talk with [the staff] on a formal basis anywhere from once a month to every three months to really connect with them to make sure they have everything they need,” Mueller said. “We do lots of things to really establish that connection with our employees, and the feedback we’re getting on these programs is great.”

The Center for BrainHealth: Stress Resilience For Front Lines

The Center for BrainHealth has recently started the Stress Resilience for the Front Line. The free program gives healthcare workers and first responders virtual access to self-paced cognitive training programs covering topics such as stress and sleep solutions and building memory and reasoning, as well as interactive Zoom resilience sessions led by the Center’s expert clinicians, and a video series discussing tips on increasing brain health.

“There’s no cost to any first line or first responders,”  Dee O’Neill, head of executive and corporate solutions, said. They have access to our website and they can choose whichever pieces they want to take advantage of. We’re trying to be  sensitive to their time. Everything is available in small chunks so they can easily fit it into a break or lunchtime or on the weekends or times they aren’t working.”

Part of the University of Texas at Dallas, The Center for BrainHealth is a research institute dedicated to preserving and strengthening brain health. The Center was able to raise $65,390 for the Stress Resilience program through the North Texas Giving Tuesday Now and a matching donation from a board member.

Because the program was just launched, it is too early to analyze its impact, but the center will continue to offer the program and will continue to look for funding in order to continue providing the program to frontline workers for free, O’Neill says.

“What we hope to do is follow some of the folks who actually go through the whole series or go through some of the sessions, so that we can see what they notice and what they find most valuable,” O’Neill said. “Then we’ll make changes from there, based on feedback and what is the most helpful.”

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