Ochsner Health's key tactics to promote staff well-being during COVID-19

Physicians and other healthcare professionals working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are faced with balancing the duty of caring for patients with concerns about their own health and well-being and that of their family and friends.

During the COVID-19 crisis, it's important for hospital staff to feel supported and connected to others in the medical community. Below are New Orleans-based Ochsner Health's tactics to promote staff well-being during the pandemic.

Think Maslow's Hierarchy

It's hard to care for patients when staff are worried about their jobs, compensation, childcare or having time to eat.

  • Reassure staff: Clearly and transparently communicate your commitment to organizational stability and taking care of your people. Staff want to know — if I step up then will you step up for me?

  • Minimize stressors ahead of time: Figure out childcare for your front-line staff so they have one less worry before a shift. Get local organizations or donors to send in meals for day and nighttime staff.

Be proactive about providing support

Simply reminding people of the employee assistance program or behavioral health isn't going to help mitigate stress. Instead, provide the following types of support directly and quickly:

  • On-demand counseling: Set up and advertise a call-in number where a social worker or psychologist can talk immediately with a staff member experiencing acute stress who needs support immediately.

  • Unit-based rounding: Have behavioral health team members go to the hospital and ask nurses, aides, doctors and others how they are doing. Provide support strategies for stress management.

  • Decompression activities: Set up decompression spaces with calming music and relaxation activities. Have trained staff lead mindfulness webinars that staff can log into at convenient times.

  • Shared resource page: Have a shared resource page for all staff. This page can be updated frequently with online resources for stress management activities, family issues that come up, and other needs. 

Promote authenticity, resiliency and meaning in tragedy

People need to know it's okay to feel anxious, sad and overwhelmed. Additionally, they need to know they've been through tough times before and are resilient. Below are tips on how to cultivate resilience.

  • Set aside time to process and build community: After a shift or on an off day, set up a Zoom call where staff can share their struggles, what they are grateful for and what meaning they are making from this experience.

  • Huddle helpers: Have one-page huddle helpers for attendings or unit leads to engage staff in brief, structured activities to build resilience. For instance, they could share what they are grateful for, listen to music for 2 minutes or do a quick mindful exercise before their normal patient care huddle.

  • Build in constant appreciation: In this crisis, there is so much out of our control. People need to be inundated with messages of appreciation — feature stories of healthcare heroes in daily emails and provide constant signs of appreciation in various ways.

About the Author: Dr. Sawyer is a neuropsychologist at Ochsner Health along with Medical Director for Professional Staff Experience within the Office of Professional Well-Being.

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