A day in the life of Scripps Health's employee crisis concierge

Helen Neppes' job at San Diego-based Scripps Health is far from ordinary.

On a light note, she organizes family-oriented events for the health system's 14,000 employees, including movie nights, theater shows and sporting events. But it's the other aspect of her job —the crisis-oriented part — that makes her position strikingly unique.

As Scripps' director of work life services, Ms. Neppes works directly with employees or their families when they experience a health or financial crisis. Ms. Neppes says these crises typically involve death, serious or critical injury to an employee or member of the employee's family, or natural disaster or crime.

Other crises Ms. Neppes has overseen include helping a deceased employee's son make arrangements for a military burial for his father; coordinating financial assistance for an employee who was left homeless after a fire in her apartment; and keeping company to an 83-year-old employee without family who did not want to die alone in the hospital.

Ultimately, Ms. Neppes considers herself a "crisis concierge."

"When our [president and] CEO Chris Van Gorder created my position six years ago, he wanted to make sure we had a dedicated position to provide rapid response of resources for employees and their families during time of crisis. Each crisis is different, but he wanted to make certain our response was quick and consistent," says Ms. Neppes.Helen

The daily challenge

Ms. Neppes begins her day by connecting through email, text or phone with people who have reached out since her last opportunity to check in the night before. This starts as soon as she wakes up and has her first cup of tea. Although notification of crisis often comes in the morning, she never knows when someone will reach out. Each day brings something new.

The calls, emails and texts are followed by rounding. Ms. Neppes typically visits up to 10 facilities each week and interacts with several employees along the way. Some days, the engagement is casual and includes deliveries of event tickets and checks for the Helping Our Peers in Emergency (HOPE) Fund, a systemwide program completely supported by Scripps employees to aid colleagues facing personal hardship. Other times there are meetings scheduled with employees or family members who have asked for assistance.

"I make every day up as I go, because you don't know what's going to happen," Ms. Neppes says. "Sometimes things are planned like meetings, but there's always something new to address."

Her work continues back at her office in the system's human resources department. By the end of the day, Ms. Neppes is usually gathering more information for employees and receiving HOPE Fund applications.

She stays at work late most days, because she says it's a good time to reach people, ask questions and assess their needs.

The good and the bad

Ms. Neppes finds the job rewarding because she hears from employees how important her help is to them.

She shared the story of an employee whose son went missing. The employee was eight months pregnant at time and couldn't be with the rescue and search team. Ms. Neppes provided moral support, and even offered to buy groceries and watch the woman's other children.

"Because she had somebody she could call, it meant a lot to her," Ms. Neppes says.

While the job is rewarding, it is not without challenges.

Ms. Neppes says it is difficult when a lot of employee crises happen at once. She remembers one week when three significant crises stemmed from one facility. One employee suffered a serious injury and needed help with paperwork. The other employee needed help making travel arrangements to visit her family after her sister was murdered. The other case involved a suicide.

"To this day, the challenge for me is maintaining my composure and making sure I'm not becoming the problem, that I'm actually there helping employees in crisis. The other part is being able to flip it around the next day and say 'Let's have fun at movie night,'" Ms. Neppes says. "You've got to have a very strong composition day-to-day when these things are happening."

But she says she's been able to overcome these challenges because of her training and experience, and the fact that there is a crisis protocol. Ms. Neppes previously served as human resources director at Scripps Health, and earned a master's degree in labor and employee relations from the University of Cincinnati.

"I am not alone throughout this process. I have team members who believe like I do that helping our employees during times of crisis is just simply the right thing to do," she says.

Breaking new ground

Ms. Neppes is the first person in her position, which Mr. Van Gorder created in 2010 to further coordinate crisis care for employees.

"I wanted us to provide support not only in cases we just happened to find out about but in all cases," Mr. Van Gorder wrote in his book, The Front-Line Leader: Building a High-Performance Organization from the Ground Up. "That meant we needed a central resource that would help employees maneuver through benefits, processes and paperwork when a crisis occurred."

Mr. Van Gorder said having that central resource is a great relief to managers who know a troubled team member is receiving help.

"Employees are also happy knowing that their colleagues are in good hands," Mr.Van Gorder said in his book.

Ms. Neppes says having direct support from the organization's top leader has been invaluable.

"Caring for employees beyond the workplace is ingrained in the culture at Scripps, and having our CEO's commitment to assisting our employees in times of need sets the tone for the entire organization," Ms. Neppes says.


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