Imagine witnessing two to three deaths in a single shift. That is the reality for essential medical professionals at Boston Medical Center (BMC) — and often, those serving on the frontlines around the world. Unfortunately, providing care during unimaginable situations is nothing new for BMC employees.
BMC was at the center of providing care after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013. “The pandemic is different. The bombing was an isolated event — what’s been so tough about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is ongoing,” explained Laura Cocca, Benefits and Wellbeing Analyst at BMC during a Workforce Strategy session hosted by Business Group on Health. She noted that while BMC employees are “exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed,” they also feel a “sense of togetherness and camaraderie.”
Exceptional care, without exception
BMC takes pride in how it treats its patients: with empathy, respect, and a holistic approach. So it stands to reason that this award-winning teaching hospital, the largest safety-net hospital and busiest trauma and emergency services center in New England, also believes in providing excellent mental health care to its employees — many of whom are valiantly serving on the frontlines of this deadly pandemic.
Because BMC primarily treats vulnerable populations like low-income, homeless, and elderly people, its workers face a wide range of daily stressors.
Because BMC primarily treats vulnerable populations like low-income, homeless, and elderly people, its workers face a wide range of daily stressors. BMC employees work long hours, cope with intense pressure, and witness untold suffering. These challenges have only intensified during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This makes it all the more critical that employees have access to comprehensive and effective mental health care. BMC offers a wide variety of mental health services to ensure employees can find one that meets their unique needs. These services include telemedicine counseling; trauma-informed group sessions; treatment from an on-staff clinical social worker, psychiatrist, or integrated medicine physician; and access to Big Health’s digital therapeutics, Sleepio (for poor sleep) and Daylight (for worry and anxiety).
Digital mental health is ideal for busy medical professionals
BMC decided to partner with Big Health in 2015 because they found gaps in the care they were providing to employees — especially when it came to sleep. “If a person is tired, it makes it that much more difficult to deal with other aspects of their life,” said Cocca.
“We were drawn to Sleepio because it’s simple, it’s fun, it’s easy to use, and it’s very effective and meaningful for the people who are using it,” said Cocca. “It’s by far one of the most popular programs that we’ve offered, and that speaks to both the quality of the program and the need for it.” Nearly 24% of the BMC population have signed up for Sleepio.
What my team and I love about Daylight is that people can access it in real time, it’s approachable, and it’s un-intimidating for the user.
When Laura and her team heard about Daylight, which is designed to help people deal with feelings of worry and anxiety, they were eager to add it to their mental health services. “What my team and I love about Daylight is that people can access it in real time, it’s approachable, and it’s un-intimidating for the user,” explained Cocca.
Sleepio and Daylight have helped Boston Medical Center build a strong, resilient workforce. They give employees access to care that supports a range of mental health challenges, and reduces the chance of employees developing more serious and costly conditions.
The future is still uncertain
“It is absolutely undeniable that the current pandemic has heightened the mental health crisis, and in many ways has pulled it out of the shadows,” said Sarah Pedersen, Vice President of Customer Success at Big Health, who participated in the Workforce Strategy alongside Laura Cocca.
Nobody knows exactly how long this will go on for and what’s to come in 2021. And it’s taking a real toll on everyone’s mental health.
But it’s the uncertainty that makes the pandemic so unnerving. “Nobody knows exactly how long this will go on for and what’s to come in 2021” said Cocca. “And it’s taking a real toll on everyone’s mental health.”
Like many frontline workers across the country, BMC employees continue to be worried about not having enough beds and respirators for their patients. And until they can be fully vaccinated, many have to isolate from their families for fear of transmitting the disease to them. Likewise, COVID-19 patients can’t see their loved ones, so BMC employees are working hard to provide them with a support system during an intense time of suffering. With as many as two or three deaths occurring in a single shift, workers are seeing their patients die at unimaginable rates.
Research shows that large-scale natural and human-made disasters are almost always accompanied by a broad range of long-term psychological problems: from low mood, to anxiety and depression, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders. “With COVID-19, we know that it’s taking a toll now, and it’s likely that we will feel this impact long into the future,” said Pedersen.
The time to invest in mental health is now
Boston Medical Center understands that the current mental health crisis will not simply go away after the pandemic ends. “It’s more important than ever that companies keep focusing on addressing employees’ mental well-being, with or without COVID-19,” said Cocca.
To build a resilient workforce is important, and the issues have always been there. It’s just that COVID-19 has put a magnifying glass on it.
She noted that all employers will have to take more ownership of the health and well-being of their employees. “To build a resilient workforce is important, and the issues have always been there. It’s just that COVID-19 has put a magnifying glass on it,” Cocca explained. “As employers, we can make a big impact on normalizing this type of care, and ensuring that our people, our communities, and our loved ones have access to the care that they need.”
We are honored to work alongside innovative benefits and HR leaders like Laura Cocca and play a small part in supporting the mental health of frontline healthcare professionals. To hear from other thought leaders and learn how to help your employees back to good mental health, be sure to subscribe to our blog.
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