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Success Story: Establishing Emotional Support for Clinicians in Times of Crisis

Based on an American Medical Association news article published May 1, 2020 and Sara Berg’s interviews with Wright L. Lassiter III, President and CEO and Lisa MacLean MD, Director of Physician Wellness, Henry Ford Health System in Michigan.

Learn how Henry Ford Health System emphasizes emotional support programs for clinicians during and after crisis.

What Was the Problem?

Unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic raises concern about well-being and stress. Physicians and other health professionals on the front lines of COVID-19 care often experience higher levels of stress, placing a heavy burden on their shoulders. With a focus on well-being, Henry Ford Health System in Detroit continues to add valuable emotional support resources to support their teams.

“The most critical issue is supporting our staff and team members and physicians and ensuring that they have the support that they need—certainly emotional and psychological support is one of the most critical issues because, frankly, our staff is dealing with more death than they normally deal with,” said Wright L. Lassiter III, President and CEO of Henry Ford.

Developing the Intervention

The system is providing the following resources for emotional support during this public health emergency.

Emotional support hotline

Knowing there is a need for 24/7 access to mental health professionals, Lisa MacLean, MD, and her team worked to create a COVID-19 Employee Emotional Support Hotline at Henry Ford.

“We had a division within psychiatry that does what is called neuropsychology and they do a lot of face-to-face testing with patients who have had brain injuries or a variety of different things,” she said. “All of them were going to be furloughed because they couldn't deliver the type of care that they normally deliver, but they're all mental health professionals” and they were able to “redeploy them into other jobs to create these resources for our employees.”

The emotional support hotline is managed by the psychologists around the clock, providing support for physicians and other health professionals across Henry Ford with a diverse group of people calling in throughout the day.

Employee assistance program

While availability of the employee assistance program (EAP) is not new, it has been adjusted to meet the changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Again, what we did is we had a shifting of behavioral health staff within our organization,” said Dr MacLean. “We were able to redeploy 5 additional staff into EAP from behavioral health to help meet the demand.”

“We were also able to use those staff and psychiatric residents to help streamline medication evaluations of employees,” she said. “In addition to seeing the therapist, the same day they were able to get a medication evaluation really quickly because we actually dedicated people's time in order to be available so that we could really provide support to our [doctors] and to all of our workers.”

Daily virtual support groups

Online support groups meet 3 times a day, 7 days a week to account for varying availability of physicians and other health professionals. Redeploying behavioral health and health psychology individuals, 2 facilitators are available for every group, which has an average of 16 people.

“In addition to just doing this using Zoom 3 times a day, we've also reached out to targeted groups and said, ‘Hey, we will do a support group for you guys as well.' Last week we did one just for the residents and we did one just for the advanced practice providers.”

— Lisa MacLean, MD

Additionally, the team reached out to the midnight shift and held their first session at 1 AM, with another one planned.

“Instead of just saying here is this resource, we're trying to actually be proactive and reaching out to groups to let people know that if they want us to do a group and meet with them, we're happy to do that,” she said.

Crisis response team

If a team needs emotional support after a traumatic event, Henry Ford's crisis response team is available around the clock to schedule a virtual group intervention. At the request of a department, 2 members of the crisis team will join to discuss the critical event that has occurred.

For example, while not related to COVID-19, an employee died in a car accident, which was traumatic for everyone in the department.

“Grieving is really weird right now because all the traditions that we typically have, we can't have currently,” said Dr MacLean. “We can't have funerals and we can't touch people. It's really a strange time that we're living in.”

Leadership resources

A unique resource at Henry Ford is their well-being resources for leadership across the organization to help not only themselves but their teams too.

“We recognized early on that we needed to invest in our leaders,” said Dr MacLean. “Early on we developed a psychological first aid for leaders learning module that we assigned to all leaders so that they could learn about how to provide psychological first aid and how to have these conversations in a supportive way.”

While the daily support groups were successful, Dr MacLean found that not many leaders were attending. To overcome this, a group dedicated to COVID-19 conversations with leaders was created. The group meets 3 times a week and covers a different topic each time, including grief, loss, teamwork, building resilience, and self-care for leaders.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and even though we put these resources together, we're never going to get to post COVID,” said Dr MacLean. “There's going to be an extended recovery period and health care organizations need to also be investing in not just thinking about what we need to do in the immediate, but what we need to do over the next 6 months to a year to begin the healing and recovery process.”

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Article Information

Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships.

Disclaimer: AMA STEPS Forward® content is provided for informational purposes only, is believed to be current and accurate at the time of posting, and is not intended as, and should not be construed to be, legal, financial, medical, or consulting advice. Physicians and other users should seek competent legal, financial, medical, and consulting advice. AMA STEPS Forward® content provides information on commercial products, processes, and services for informational purposes only. The AMA does not endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services and mention of the same in AMA STEPS Forward® content is not an endorsement or recommendation. The AMA hereby disclaims all express and implied warranties of any kind related to any third-party content or offering. The AMA expressly disclaims all liability for damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to, or reliance on AMA STEPS Forward® content.


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