How 1 health system is addressing employees' counseling needs on site

Neely Conner, director of the employee assistance program at Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic, knows the importance of providing objective support to employees, particularly as they face increased stress and burnout. 

That's because she's seen it firsthand through an encounter between an on-site counselor and a nurse.

Ms. Conner told Becker's a counselor was recently rounding with staff and came across a nurse who had a look of distress.  

The counselor asked the nurse "if she wanted to take a few moments in the break room just to unload. And she said, 'Yes.' And they went in the break room, and she just kind of debriefed for about two minutes," Ms. Conner said. "He helped her process for a couple of minutes and walked her back to the nurses' station. And he was kind of saying his goodbyes, [and the nurse] asked if he could just stay there and be with her for about a half an hour. And he did."

The encounter stands out to Ms. Conner because it was not a hospital leader or co-worker but an objective third party who was there to support the nurse. It also is an example of how a newer employee assistance offering is working at Carilion Clinic, a seven-hospital system with more than 13,600 employees.

Ms. Conner said Carilion Clinic historically has offered a three-session counseling benefit but increased that to five sessions per life event in October. Services are provided by licensed, certified mental health professionals, who are called consultants.

"The reason for [using consultants] is to intentionally destigmatize the service that we provide so that folks will hopefully feel a little more comfortable accessing the session benefit and the support that we provide," Ms. Conner said. 

Carilion Clinic has also hired a second on-site counselor to help with extended coverage at its flagship hospital, Roanoke (Va.) Memorial Hospital. The first on-site counselor was hired in October and the second in January. Both round with staff and provide one-on-one sessions.

Ms. Conner said the goal is "to establish strong connections with the folks in that hospital, help [counselors] be more accessible to the folks in that hospital."

She said the counselors have also traveled out to some of Carilion's regional hospitals to provide that support in those facilities. 

Many hospitals and health systems have internal or external employee assistance programs, and hospitals and health systems have rolled out various initiatives in recent years to address the psychosocial effect of COVID-19 on the mental health of employees. Such initiatives are especially crucial for hospitals amid staffing shortages and other workforce challenges. An American Association of Critical-Care Nurses survey of about 9,000 nurses conducted in October found 67 percent of nurses plan to leave their current nursing position within three years.

At Carilion Clinic, Ms. Conner said she anticipated some challenges in onboarding the in-house counselors and getting them acclimated to the organization's culture, but that did not come to fruition. 

"I think it was really related to the people that we hired, and their willingness to just go out and engage with people as they work and just to chat, have connection, be a good ear and the strong shoulder," she said, adding that feedback from workers has also been positive.

Overall, on-site counselors provided about 160 session hours in May at Carilion hospitals.


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