Best strategies to promote employee mental health: 5 healthcare CEOs weigh in

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare CEOs to share the most effective strategy they use to promote good mental health among employees.

Here are five CEOs who offer words about their offerings for employees and what it means to support staff during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Guy Hudson, MD. CEO of Swedish Health Services (Seattle): The past 18 months have been some of the most difficult we have faced in healthcare, and in my opinion, the single most effective strategy to promote mental health among our caregivers is to show action and support through services they can utilize in trying times.

Everyone's emotional well-being is a top priority of mine. At Swedish, we have enhanced our Caregiver Assistance Programs to support our caregiver's emotional well-being with access to increased mental health support through Lyra, our well-being partner. We have also set up a hub on our intranet with useful resources and tips and encourage everyone to consider connecting with our free mental health benefits, if needed.

I have been extremely proud of all our caregivers who have taken the time each day to make sure their fellow caregivers are OK. Around Swedish, we call it caring for our caregivers. I also encourage everyone to find time in their day to take care of themselves and to engage in activities that bring them joy, even if it's brief.   

Donald H. Lloyd II. President and CEO of St. Claire HealthCare (Morehead, Ky.): To support the mental health of our teams throughout the pandemic, it is crucial for all of our leaders to commit to frequent, truthful and transparent communication, and it's imperative that we are visible and available to our teams so we can see and feel their angst and compassion.

Dionne Cruz Miller. Hospital Chief Executive for Presbyterian Hospital (Albuquerque, N.M.): To serve others, we need to care for and be kind to ourselves. Promoting good mental health means first extending grace and the benefit of the doubt to our colleagues; and making sure each person knows they are appreciated, and their work is meaningful.

Caring for each other means encouraging time for exercise, for conversation and for laughter, every day. I encourage and try to model taking time every day to go for a walk, even if only for 15 minutes, during the workday. Walking outside is ideal but even walking the stairs raises your heart rate, creates blood flow and forces you to just breath and maybe say hello to someone new.

Kurt Newman, MD. President and CEO of Children's National Hospital (Washington, D.C.): Creating opportunities for employees to have an open dialogue with peers around mental health is critical. I encourage our employees to know that it's OK to not be OK. I want our team members talking to each other and supporting one another.

For example, Children's National Hospital has a Medical Staff Peer Support Program. This is a peer-to-peer program that provides outreach by team members specially trained in peer support. Outreach from a peer can help mitigate the negative emotions that too often accompany involvement in adverse and other stressful events. Additionally, the Children's National Well-Being initiative is committed to supporting team morale and the physical and emotional well-being of our staff. One offering is daily live online meditation sessions that are available to all staff members at noon and 9:45 p.m. 

It's important that CEOs don't just say 'we're in this together' but that they help create an organizational culture that allows team members to know and feel they're truly in this together.

Penny Wheeler, MD. CEO Allina Health (Minneapolis): We recognize the hard work, commitment and sacrifice of our employees and we listen to what matters most to them. Allina Health's mission is to provide whole-person care — mind, body, spirit and connection to community — for our employees and patients. Bringing whole-person care to life through benefits, pay, career development and well-being programs is an important part of how we're 'all in' on supporting and investing in our employees.

We continue to make investments as part of our ongoing commitment to making sure our people have healthcare and support in moments of need, as well as resources to invest in their well-being. We created the Caring for Caregivers Fund in the early days of the pandemic to help employees cover mortgage or rent expenses, car payments, childcare and utility expenses, and other financial hardships that may arise as team members give their full attention to caring for those who are seriously ill. The fund was just one part of the Caring for Caregivers program which also included COVID leave for any employee prohibited from working due to non-work related exposure (travel, family member who is ill, etc.), back-up childcare opened to all employees and reimbursed, and grocery delivery benefit expanded to all employees.

We recently heard from our staff that being able to care for themselves and their loved ones is vital to their well-being. In response, we were the first healthcare system in our region to offer a paid caregiver leave benefit for eligible employees so our teams can take the paid time they need, when they need it.

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