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Workplace trauma: Chief wellness officer available for interviews

media brief 100920
From left, hospitalists Rosy Nat, MD, Sandhya Kanade, MD, and Zartashia Shahab, MD


The pandemic sparked stories about healthcare heroes nationwide providing care while adhering to constantly changing guidelines, quarantining after work and homeschooling their children before heading off to challenging shifts.

Occupational stress and burnout among healthcare providers was described, pre-pandemic, as a public health concern which can deplete our nation of healthcare workers and reduce access to care.

However, research and past examples uncover that amidst uncertainty and hardship lies an opportunity for people and organizations to reinvent themselves.

An article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), authored by Kristine Olson, MD, chief wellness officer, Yale New Haven Hospital; Tait Shanafelt, MD, chief wellness officer, Stanford Medicine; and Steven Southwick, MD, professor emeritus, Yale Medicine; describes post-traumatic growth as “positive change among people or organizations after a traumatic event.”

This is the kind of change that in normal circumstances takes years and the kind of change that makes the individual or organization more prepared for future trauma.

“When it comes to employee wellness, we had an advantage heading into the pandemic because we were inventorying our resources and meeting with stakeholders in prep for a program to address the healthcare worker experience,” said Dr. Olson. “This wellness program was particularly important because when healthcare workers have the tools to feel in control of their careers, be resilient and replenish themselves, it improves all aspects of healthcare including quality, the patient experience, access and value, and lifelong learning.”

In March 2020, the wellness program needed to respond to the unique needs of working through a pandemic.

“There were several things immediately put in place to ensure that basic needs were met and tools were available to enhance healthcare worker well-being,” said Dr. Olson. On a parallel track, Yale New Haven Health created initiatives to drive post-traumatic growth.

The JAMA article, titled, Pandemic driven posttraumatic growth for organizations and individuals, relays that when organizations are affected by adversity they can achieve a higher level of functioning by taking the following steps:

Assess how the individual or organization has been affected.

Identify role models that have grown in adversity.

Connect with others to find meaning in the experience.

Learn how to view the current situation as a trauma, but also an opportunity to reinvent.

Assess how the experience connects the individual or organization to humanity and society, and our purpose in healthcare.

“The pandemic brought wellness to the forefront,” said Dr. Olson. “It was apparent that we need a sustained infrastructure that allows people to feel their best coming to work.”

Initiatives that grew out of the pandemic focus on giving employees control and information and include:

Basic Needs: Yale New Haven Health reached out to people in our community who had expertise in securing the resources employees need to do to their best work. This includes everything from toilet paper and groceries to child and eldercare.

Support Portal: A central hub that takes the guesswork out of finding information and resources. This is where employees can find supply chain updates, education on protecting families, tutorials on donning and doffing and the latest treatment algorithms.

Care for the Caregiver website: A place where people can receive 24/7 one on one support, self-guided cognitive behavioral therapy, anonymous support, and locate quiet rooms throughout the hospital to access these services.

Yale Stress Self-Assessment: A screening available to all employees that assesses stressors and symptoms related to COVID-19 and connects employees to support based on their assessment.

“The concept of posttraumatic growth does not minimize what has happened,” said Dr. Olson “There may be a period of grieving before acceptance and posttraumatic growth. We should offer ourselves the same compassion that we would offer our patients and loved ones. Then, we can explore the ways this traumatic event has presented us the opportunity to positively change our trajectory as individuals, an organization, and a national healthcare system.”

“The pandemic has taught us how much we need and rely on one another,” said Dr. Olson. “The robust safety-net and support for healthcare workers at Yale New Haven Health is a result of un-siloed close collaboration of the healthcare community. Yale New Haven Health and Yale School of Medicine worked side-by-side to bring all available talent and resources to our healthcare heroes. We are in this together, and we are stronger together.”

Dr. Olson highlights the pleasure of working with the teams led by John Krystal, MD, chair, Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine; Kevin Myatt, chief, Human Resources, Yale New Haven Hospital; Mike Ivy, MD, deputy chief medical officer, Yale New Haven Health System; Mary Hu, associate dean, Communications, Yale School of Medicine and Joni Hansson, MD, medical director, Medical Staff Communications, Yale New Haven Health System.