Sep 16, 2020
In recognition of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, NYC Health + Hospitals today provided an update on staff mental health services and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) partnership, all focused on identifying and supporting mental health challenges that could present after the COVID-19-response. Since developing the HERO-NY training with guidance from DOD in June 2020, more than 350 staff members across the health system have undergone the combat stress training to better identify early signs of lasting emotional and psychological impacts common after a traumatic event, such as PTSD, which some frontline staff could experience after the COVID-19 peak. Guidance from DOD was also incorporated in existing support services and programs that were quickly expanded during the peak. These programs, led by the system’s Helping Healers Heal (H3) teams in partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health and made available to all employees, are aimed at helping to identify and monitor distress, as well as to assist staff in resilience-building while aiding the utilization of recovery resources and coping support services. NYC Health + Hospitals continues to urge all staff members to seek mental health care to support their wellbeing during the pandemic.
“Health care workers are often seen as the healers, but we aren’t completely immune from the potential impacts traumas and prolonged stress can have on our mental wellbeing,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer Eric Wei, MD, MBA. “The high rates of suicide among physicians is extremely alarming, and we remain vigilant to help our colleagues any way we can. In our health system, no one is ever left to battle mental health challenges alone.”
“The COVID-19 peak in NYC proved to be the most challenging days of even the most experienced physician’s career, but our health system is committed to providing the critical support needed to ensure everyone’s safety and recovery,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Charles Barron, MD. “We will continue to make strategic investments to expand and introduce new programs and support services, create safe spaces and healthy dialogue for our workforce to build resilience and recovery.”
Since the COVID-19 peak in NYC, programs led through NYC Health + Hospitals for staff mental wellness saw:
• Over 9,000 proactive unit-based wellness rounds, which include mental health experts and peer-support teams actively engaging employees working in areas heavily affected by COVID-19. Wellness rounds focus on identifying and supporting employees showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and burnout, and connecting them to services if requested – including one-on-one telephonic, in-person debrief, or anonymous counseling;
• More than 2,300 additional H3 debrief encounters that include group debriefs, 1:1 peer support sessions, and wellness events. These encounters are formally structured as open forum directives that are facilitated utilizing the skills of licensed creative arts therapists, other mental health practitioners, as well as H3 leads with the intention to allow thoughts and feelings to be expressed and shared verbally and nonverbally using the healing powers of creativity and art. This provides frontline staff the opportunity to share their experiences in a safe environment with other staff who were experiencing similar days and stress;
• Nearly 200 calls to the public health system’s anonymous behavioral health employee-only hotline, which connects employees in need of support with psychiatrists/ psychologists, and is staffed by NYC Health + Hospitals employee volunteers;
• Approximately 63,000 visits to respite/wellness rooms, allowing staff to take a break and engage in calming activities, such as meditation or crafting. Respite rooms are staffed by licensed mental health professionals standing at the ready to provide support to any staff that needed it.
“Health care workers have spent months on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing unprecedented caseloads, working hours, and worries over themselves or loved ones contracting the virus,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. “Their truly heroic work often comes with a cost, and it’s critically important that we ensure access to the mental health services they need to cope with these conditions. I would encourage all health care workers to take advantage of NYC Health + Hospitals’ wide range of mental and behavioral health programs.”
In addition to the work facilitated by the system’s behavioral health experts and DOD partnership, “Just -In-Time” training was extended to non-behavioral health staff who volunteered to be trained in mental health guidance and counseling. The bi-weekly, virtual response trainings were designed to expose all volunteers throughout the system to the fundamental approaches of effective communications, emotional intelligence, optimal team function, and conflict resolution. As volunteers were trained, the focus of preventative efforts was centered on the active surveillance and assessment of emotional wellness. Approximately 100 employees participate in the bi-weekly trainings.
The DOD training series, HERO-NY, includes five 60-minute modules to help educate frontline workers across a variety of settings, departments, and disciplines, like Behavioral Health Services, on the emotional and psychological impact common after a traumatic event, and how to best address these signs. The DOD partnership with NYC Health + Hospitals and Greater New York Hospital Association was announced in April 2020.
The Helping Healers Heal program was launched at NYC Health + Hospitals in 2018 by President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz and Chief Quality Officer Dr. Eric Wei. The program is rooted in national research that points to health care providers as “Second Victims” of traumatic events commonly experienced in all healthcare settings. All H3 teams include licensed mental health practitioners and other behavioral health experts.
According to the American Psychiatry Association, an estimated 300-400 physicians commit suicide each year, more than double the rate for the general public.
All NYC Health + Hospitals staff members who may be experiencing mental health challenges, especially thoughts of suicide, are urged to seek support through any modality offered to all employees throughout the system.