CLEVELAND — From big cities to small towns, the past 15 months of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have been fraught with extended hours and never-ending challenges for health care workers. Although much different than in 2020, National Nurses Week this year has taken on a whole new meaning.
Even before the pandemic started, nurse burnout and the compounding impact of stress were already of major concern for health care systems across the country. The pandemic has only intensified those concerns. A recent poll by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation found six out of 10 respondents said the pandemic has burned them out. Additionally, a recent survey done by the Yale School of Public Health found a quarter of healthcare workers are showing signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
University Hospitals recognized this looming concern early on in the pandemic and launched its UH4YOU program, multi-faceted wellness, and self-care program system-wide.
"The best thing we have been able to do is provide self-care and really focus on motivating and encouraging people, uplifting ourselves and others," said Brittany Sustar, the nursing operations manager at UH Geauga Medical Center. "I think it is just focusing on the positives continuously and trying to be there for them. People need others more now than ever before."
Since its launch, the program has made a tremendous difference for Sustar and her colleagues, she said.
"We were able to create so many different venues for people to be able to care for themselves and focus on what means the most -- and that's self-care -- so we can be our best and take care of others," Sustar said. "Even though we are challenged with a lot of hardships, it has helped improve work relationships. It has helped to slow down a lot and focus on what we value the most."
The UH4YOU initiative offers a multitude of wellness-related resources, including the employee assistance program, free virtual classes and audio meditation, an adopt-a-floor program, and even lavender rooms that allow employees to relax and meditate.
"I think it's a commitment at the employer level to recognize that our biggest assets are our employees and our caregivers," said Dr. Francoise Adan, the director of UH Connor Integrative Health Network. "The commitment of making sure that employees have the tools they need to so they can take cared of themselves, it's crucial."
Although it may seem like a small measure, Adan pointed to the self-care toolbox that is emailed out each day. In it, there are self-care tips and mood boosters. Of all UH communications, it has the highest email open rate.
"We are so incredibly resilient. It's astonishing. How people do it is amazing to me. The courage and the perseverance and the resilience is truly remarkable," Adan said. "Working in a hospital, I know nothing is more contagious than emotion. Yes, we treat COVID and clearly, COVID is contagious but emotions are even more contagious than COVID."