Giving staff tools to focus on mental and physical health

Sutter Davis (Calif.) Hospital, a 42-bed hospital with about 500 staff members, has two bragging points for the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: Its employee engagement survey, conducted last September, had the highest rate of participation ever. And the hospital scored the highest level of sustainable engagement—the intensity of employees’ connection to their organization—in its history.

“To have that level of engagement and satisfaction among our employees during the pandemic really spoke to the commitment that we made to take care of their well-being during the pandemic,” said CEO Rachael McKinney. “And that level of engagement allows us to partner with our employees to ensure that we’re meeting their needs, not just from an employment perspective, but from a health perspective as well.”

To help its staff members navigate the challenges of the pandemic, Sutter Davis has ramped up programming offered through its employee assistance program with weekly lunch-and-learn webinars on topics such as “Talking to your teams about the ‘new normal.’ ” 

“We are giving our employees access to mental health support as well as how they can best support their families during a difficult time like the one that we have faced recently,” McKinney said.

Sutter Davis was taking steps before the pandemic to prioritize staff well-being. It was one of the first hospitals in the country to offer a weekly farmer’s market—now in its 11th year—on its campus, making it easy for employees, physicians and neighbors in the community to buy fresh produce. 

Healthy minds and bodies

That priority is shared by Nova Healthcare Administrators, a utilization-management company owned by insurer Independent Health. The company, based in Buffalo, N.Y., has about 285 employees.

Telecommuting was common before the pandemic and about 95% of the staff are working remotely now, said Amanda Hartman, a human resources generalist. Long term, the company expects to have a hybrid work model that provides flexibility for employees to work remotely.

In the past year, the company’s wellness initiatives have been delivered online, which offers some added benefits. “Our mindfulness meditation sessions have been adapted for remote access, and we record them so if associates are not able to participate in real time, they can go through the session on their own time,” Hartman said.

The company’s Renovations health and wellness committee has similarly adapted its programming to encourage staff members to stay active. The Nova Triathlon, for example, offers an incentive—participation in a drawing for a prize—to encourage workers to run, bike and swim during the summer months. Participants document their participation by submitting a photo.

“Since the initiatives are now all being done at home, that has allowed more families to participate,” Hartman said. “We’re seeing kids participate, and pets—it has been fun for us to get that snapshot of everybody’s home life, which has connected us a bit more.”

At CereCore, a Nashville-based information technology services firm, keeping tabs on employees’ health means communication. The majority of the company’s workers—about 400 full-time staff and another 150 to 200 contractors in a typical year—works remotely, serving hospitals and physician offices around the country.

“One of the things that we think is important for employee health and employee morale is for a manager to know a person very personally,” said CEO Curtis Watkins. “Given the stresses of the last 18 months or so, that’s become even more critical.”

Managers do formal rounding—called one-on-ones—via video conferences or phone calls to see how their direct-reports are doing. Some schedule “virtual office hours,” notifying employees they will be online for a specific time period and inviting them to click into the video platform to chat. “We’re trying to create the same kind of by-chance interaction opportunities we could have in an office, as opposed to only seeing one another in structured meetings all the time,” he said. 

Providence St. Joseph Hospital, a 460-bed medical center in Orange, Calif., uses a different kind of communication to keep tabs on the well-being of its staff of about 3,000 caregivers. When the results of its annual employee-satisfaction survey are completed, leaders look for the work groups that reported the highest rates of burnout and work overload. 

Because they are mission-driven, caregivers—whether they are nurses or food-service workers—derive fulfillment from spending enough time with their patients to make a connection, said CEO Jeremy Zoch.

“We intentionally find six to eight of our departments—usually they are some of our larger departments—that have those lower scores in those areas take a close look to say, ‘What could we do to help you be able to be more present in the work you’re doing?’ ” he said.

One solution: acquiring technology that allows a few nursing assistants to monitor—and communicate with—up to 60 patients simultaneously. This reduces the frequency of a single nursing assistant being pulled away to bed-sit a single patient, disrupting an entire team.

“Now when you come into work today, your team that is caring for parents on your unit is the same team throughout the day,” Zoch said. “That’s a big help to our nurses and to the nursing assistants, who don’t have to cover for somebody that had to be a sitter.”

Lola Butcher is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Mo.


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