How Johns Hopkins, Banner + 2 other systems support employees' mental health

As hospitals have increased their mental health services to meet employee needs, some have created unique ways to better their employees' well-being. On top of counseling services, some hospitals have implemented mental health initiatives including a hotline to help workers deal with day-to-day patient- or work-related stress, mental health first aid training, and wellness events to support employee morale and wellness.

Keck Medicine of USC

Los Angeles-based Keck Medicine of USC, which has about 7,000 employees, expanded its employee wellness program, Care for the Caregiver, in July 2021 and appointed Steven Siegel, MD, PhD, as chief mental health and wellness officer.

In his role, Dr. Siegel leads activities related to the Care for the Caregiver program via a caregiver office that includes a social worker and clinical psychologist.

As part of those efforts, the health system received training from the Schwartz Center, an international organization renowned for its grand rounds format that focuses on the emotional effects of patient care, according to CEO Rodney Hanners.

"We titled them, 'Grand Rounds for the Heart,' and engage our caregivers in their work setting to talk about their mental well-being," he explained. "We treat the most complex patients in the country, and our caregivers are put through a lot. We started these rounds to connect with individuals on an emotional level."

Keck Medicine is also focused on measuring the outcomes of interventions to help with challenges and stressors physicians and other staff face. Once the outcomes are measured, the health system plans to publish the results, thanks to a recently received grant.

"We hope to learn a great deal in terms of what interventions are truly working," Mr. Hanners said. "Otherwise you're projecting what you think will work, but may not for everybody."

Additionally, Keck Medicine offers employees financial support through a newer Care for the Caregiver initiative called the Keck Kindness program.

Since the program launched about a year and a half ago, Keck Medicine has given a total of $664,000 to about 1,700 employees. Individual gifts ranged between $130 to $650.

Mr. Hanners said the money offers employees financial support to help with an immediate need, such as a car repair or other unexpected expense.

"The program helps us be there for our employees, which in turn, allows them to be fully present for our patients."  

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine developed and launched RISE, a peer support program intended to provide "psychological first aid and emotional support" to healthcare workers. RISE, which stands for Resilience in Stressful Events, includes a hotline in which volunteer healthcare workers will call other workers within the system to check in on their emotional well-being and provide resources for them to seek further help. 

"This is not counseling and it's not therapy, and it's not psychology or psychiatry. … It is intended to provide immediate, completely confidential timely support to anyone who feels like they want to talk to somebody," said Albert Wu, MD, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University.

The program started in 2011 and has since been expanded in collaboration with the Maryland Patient Safety Center. Now referred to as Caring for the Caregiver, the program has expanded beyond Johns Hopkins and has now trained nearly 100 hospitals and health systems to implement peer responders. 

Though workers have the option of meeting with peer responders in person or virtually, the program still maintains a semi-anonymous status because it does not require people to give their full names, and the details about what they disclose to the peer responder are not recorded. They record basic information on the encounter such as how quickly they responded to the volunteer, but the specifics of the conversation are not written down. 

At Johns Hopkins, Dr. Wu said, they've trained about 1,000 people to be peer responders, though not all have actively served as peer responders within the program.

"People all get a little bit of training in psychological first aid, basically. It sort of creates much more of a culture that understands that this is not a sign of weakness to call for help, to ask for help, but it's a sign of strength because you realize that you're stronger together," Dr. Wu said. 

Christus Health

Similar to the RISE program, Irving, Texas-based Christus Health expanded a partnership with Stericycle that allowed trained registered nurse advisers to proactively check in with Christus nurses and other clinicians to offer support and counseling. 

"We are a personal employer; we wanted to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ not only to our community, but to our associates," said George Avila, system vice president for change integration. 

Associates who received calls from the program reported that they felt supported because their employers had reached out to them to check in on their emotional well-being, Mr. Avila added.

To date, Stericycle has made 18,000 calls to Christus caregivers.

What sets this program apart, Mr. Avila said, is Christus was able to utilize its current resources to improve employee well-being. Instead of spending extra money to implement a wellness program, it used what was already within its budget to reach out to employees. 

"So we really came together as a community, as Christus, to address it," Mr. Avila said. "There aren't any conversations about 'can we continue it,' because it's already within our budget. We didn't increase budgets in any way; this was already us just maximizing what we already had in place to serve our associates."

Banner Health

Phoenix-based Banner Health, a 30-hospital health system with more than 50,000 employees, provides on-site counselors at its hospitals who facilitate support groups and provide education on mental health issues such as grief and loss, anxiety, compassion fatigue, depression, and loneliness.

Although the initiative began in 2021 and has been well-received, it continues to evolve based on societal trends, according to Nicole Stec, director of well-being for Banner.

Many of the third-party counselors "come from a social worker background," she said. "And what they have been able to do [this year] for many of our team members who are struggling with inflation, and the rising costs of goods, housing, utilities, [is act] as a liaison to help those team members find community resources as well as resources within Banner, including our employee assistance program, to help with things like utility assistance, housing assistance, food pantries, those types of services."

Ms. Stec said the health system advises leaders to allow their team members to access counselors during work time, up to once a week, so workers don't have to take time off to access counseling they need.

Banner expects to continue the counseling services, which are still being used at the same rate as last year within the health system.

Outside of the counseling initiative, more than 300 Banner leaders and team members have received mental health first aid training and certification to help destigmatize mental illness across the health system.

Ms. Stec said Banner began implementing the initiative last year with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Among the questions discussed during training are: What is mental illness? What does mental illness look like? Who's at risk? How do you approach somebody and help them if you see the signs or symptoms of somebody who's struggling with anxiety, depression or another mental illness? How do you get that individual connected with the resources they need?

The certification is offered quarterly, with up to 15 people certified each quarter.

Once certified, leaders share a shorter version of the training with their teams across the system.

Even with the resources available to employees, Ms. Stec acknowledged that the workplace environment also plays a role.

"We're definitely providing the resources to help people get assistance with their mental health. However, we recognize that many of the challenges are more environmental than necessarily individual related," she said. "Some of that has to do with staffing, resources. And we do have ongoing projects outside of our team that I'm aware of, they're happening within our team member experience space, where we're looking to remove some of the challenges with the EMR, challenges with staffing and resources that are available within the facilities."

No matter the contributing factors, she encourages all hospital senior leaders and managers to "leverage and elevate well-being and mental health and make it be a habit felt and embraced by all the team members in the organization."

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