A synthesis of the Honoring Our Heroes: Prioritizing Health Care Workforce Wellbeing live summit on May 5, 2022. Click here to watch the webinar.
The word “culture” encompasses many intangible social interactions and enriching experiences. Sociologists define culture as a group’s shared values, ideas, language, communication, and activities. In clinical settings, where patients receive therapy for alcohol and substance use disorders and mental health conditions, therapists and others aim to create a culture of recovery.
Children’s National Hospital, the Art of Living Foundation, National Geographic Documentary Films, and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation held their summit to honor healthcare workers who put patient care above everything else in their lives. In thematic solidarity, each speaker appealed to the dire need for the creation of a culture of wellness for healthcare healers. Such a culture should protect them from the stigma of getting help for burnout and all the associated psychological and physical implications.
This article aims to highlight key talking points made by speakers during this summit held earlier this year in Washington, D.C.
Burnt out, stretched thin, and under-supported: a chilling portrait of those on the front lines
Albert Chris is the Executive Vice President of global communications and talent relations for Disney branded television and National Geographic documentary films. He played a vital role in the production of and campaign for The First Wave, Matthew Heineman’s acclaimed documentary film depicting the early toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers in a New York City hospital. National Geographic will make the film available at no cost to any healthcare system or group that would like to use it to guide the conversation.
A much-needed investment in the well-being of frontline healthcare workers
Last year, the American Rescue Plan included funding for provisions modeled after the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act. A total of $100 million was allocated in grants to hospitals, health systems, training schools, and professional associations across the country to reduce burnout and promote mental health in our health workforce. President Biden signed the act into law, which will ensure that we can work to prevent suicides of wonderful, talented healthcare professionals.
Powerful awareness: when the unspeakable happens and you speak of it, others can speak, too
Dr. Lorna Breen was an emergency room physician who died by suicide after first fighting for the flood of COVID-19 patients coming into her New York City emergency room in 2020. Breen’s sister, Jennifer, and brother-in-law, Corey Feist, have been laser-focused on their mission of making a difference in the way we care for healthcare professionals. The 2022 Healthcare Workforce Rescue package is an excellent example of the healthcare community coming together with a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress to create a new law and implement it in less than two years.
Within the healthcare culture, we need to meet the workforce where they are right now regarding their mental health and well-being. Physician suicide has been linked to depression, drug abuse, marital problems, and self-destructive inclinations. Workplace issues, including increasing workload and medical blunders, have also been linked to suicidal thoughts in healthcare.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts are more common among physicians than in the general population. Many studies have shown a link between suicidal thoughts and a large amount of work. According to a new analysis, physician burnout and depression are unique experiences with varied repercussions for doctors and their patients. Studies suggest that doctors with suicidal thoughts are less likely than the general public to get the treatment they need.
Physician burnout has garnered attention as an epidemic caused by a flawed system, instead of an inherent shortcoming. Because of the societal stigma attached to mental illness, afflicted doctors may be reluctant to seek treatment when needed. Assuring their well-being and lowering their risk of suicidal thoughts may be achieved by taking proactive measures to detect and manage physician distress.
Creating a supportive work environment may help alleviate physician stress, and organizations should keep this in mind. A physician advocate may be a valuable addition to an organization by offering support services to people who need assistance. In addition, doctors must acknowledge the role of self-care, set examples with healthy habits, and urge patients to do the same.
A culture of wellness: not being 100% okay sometimes is okay all the time
Dr. Rob McGregor is the chief medical officer at Akron Children’s Hospital. He is a pediatric hospitalist and holds the rank of professor of pediatrics at Northeast Ohio Medical University. McGregor says that not identifying with a peer group can isolate a person, underscoring the significance of building a culture of wellness within the healthcare field. The Akron Physician Wellness Initiative is a nonprofit organization that was started before the pandemic but accelerated during the crisis. It delivers concierge-type psychological services with a dedicated psychologist who just works with physicians and nurse practitioners. Several psychiatrists and psychologists are available for on-the-spot triage.
When health workers hold themselves accountable for practicing self-care, it becomes a catalyst for employee well-being that could save lives. With burnout being so prevalent, it is crucial to create a culture of wellness for healers that makes it okay to seek help and know that they are not alone. When healing healthcare workers is placed as a priority collectively, it then becomes internalized within the workforce. Individuals nurture their core belief that true healing begins from within.
SKY Breathing Meditation workshops have dramatically decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms, improved deep sleep, and lowered cortisol stress hormone levels in participants. Contact Healing Breaths to learn more about our self-care programs for healthcare professionals.
Many organizations offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to encourage employees to seek short-term treatment and psychiatric tests. EAPs provide a limited number of sessions with a therapist for no co-pay, deductible, or other out-of-pocket fees.
But as Corey pointed out, many health professionals don’t use EAPs despite their incredible benefits. Still, the workforce is asking for help, albeit silently in many cases. In hospitals, someone with operational responsibility can fulfill the need for peer support. That person can connect healthcare providers with Healing Breaths and SKY, two examples of mental health programs that are available in addition to traditional therapy, online therapy, and other psychiatric care.
Being valued, respected, and trusted: Seeking mental health care as a sign of strength
Jean Garcia Davis is a science and policy advisor in the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. Davis says we can harness this next phase of the pandemic to recover long before the next one while rebuilding trust in each other, our communities, science, and public health. Davis is hopeful that with collective work and movement, policies and the system will change to build a more healing system. The collective aim is to protect all health workers’ safety, and well-being by listening to what is meaningful to them and then prioritizing improvements in work, learning environments, and proposed actions. Increasing access to quality mental health and substance use care is a start.
Transforming the healthcare culture means reducing workplace and administrative burdens and workloads, helping health workers make time for what matters, designing human-centered technology, and recognizing the value of conversation. Silent suffering is the main prolonger of poor mental health. When people openly acknowledge their vulnerability and remember that seeking mental healthcare is a sign of strength, it shows how social connection and peer support are core values. They facilitate a sense of belonging, trust, and teamwork on a large scale and protect everyone within organizations and the communities they serve.
A beautiful, healthy person within everyone
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living programs have impacted people involved in armed conflicts worldwide, making him a global ambassador of peace. His vision for the world is to see a smile on every face and create a stress-free and violence-free society. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been conferred with numerous awards around the globe, including the highest civilian award in Colombia and Mongolia and one of India’s top civilian awards.
Acceptance is a prerequisite for meaningful change, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar pointed out in his keynote address that many people don’t acknowledge they are not well. In this regard, people with mental health issues don’t differ from a person with a substance or alcohol use disorder who denies they have a problem. When health workers do not talk about their emotional issues among their peers or with a mental health professional, they isolate themselves in their own individual worlds.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that many physicians and nurses are not well unless there are conversations about mental health among them. Without dialogue, these workers will remain in denial and quiet about their unmet emotional and psychiatric needs. Communication is the secret to lowering reports of burnout. Spending time with healthcare workers to talk and ask, “Are you doing all right?” is priceless. That simple question can make all the difference in the lives of those struggling with disproportional burdens, compassion fatigue, anxiety, burnout, suicidal ideations, depression, and occupational stress.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has guided meditations for millions of people across the globe, including a significant number of healthcare workers who report that they are happier now. There is wellness within each person just waiting to be brought to the surface. Yoga is one of many ways to do that. It has helped many people during the pandemic, especially those learning to be alone during lockdowns and quarantines.
When stigma is no longer allowed to threaten the healthcare ethos, a culture of wellness for healers who take care of themselves will usher in a new wave of well-being. That flood of health will permeate society, going beyond the healthcare system, improving life throughout the entire community.