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Q&A with AdventHealth: supporting employee mental health during the pandemic

How can benefits teams support employee mental health during a pandemic? We spoke with Stephanie Abril, Director of Health & Well-being at AdventHealth.

For many people, work is the foundation of their identity—it is their source of growth, connection, and fulfillment. But COVID-19 has rapidly shifted the workplace, cracking that foundation. Benefits teams are now tasked with urgently filling those cracks by providing emotional, physical, and economic support to their employees.

To gain insight into the challenges benefits teams are facing, and the solutions they are putting into place, we spoke with Stephanie Abril, the Director of Employee Health & Well-being at AdventHealth.

AdventHealth employs 80,000 people — 30,000 of whom fall within Stephanie’s purview, roughly 70% of whom are frontline healthcare workers.

Stephanie Abril, Dir. of Employee Health & Wellbeing (AdventHealth)

When COVID-19 hit, what was the first thing you and your team did to support the health and well-being of your employees?

SA: The first thing we did was move all benefits online to optimize for continuity and access. Everything we could provide virtually we did. Within weeks we tripled our engagement with those programs, which was reassuring. Then in a matter of days, we created a landing page to house all COVID-19 resources, such as EAP, links to Daylight & Sleepio, food delivery, etc.

Given that you have an EAP in place, what made you realize you needed additional mental health support for your employees?

Unfortunately, EAP is still stigmatized and often not clearly understood. Some employees remain apprehensive about the potential risk of their boss or leadership finding out that they utilized the EAP. While unfounded, this concern prevents people from seeking help.

Additionally, we have issues with access. For example, if an employee calls EAP, there may be a two-week wait time to talk to a therapist, plus it may not be covered by insurance. This time delay and the potential cost, often hinders employees from seeking and receiving the care they need, when they need it most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the urgency for our people to seek and receive help. We knew we needed to offer a fully-digital, stigma-free, and engaging mental health resource.

There has been a lot of news coverage recently on the worsening of frontline workers’ mental health, are you seeing this amongst your employees?

Absolutely. It goes back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our team members are experiencing unknown physiological and safety challenges—the base of the pyramid—hindering them from attending to other needs such as love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

Our leadership recognizes this problem and has been proactively reaching out to us about adding mental health resources. Their focus highlights the importance of providing psychological support right now. Across the company, we know people are scared about physical safety and the future, which is why we want to provide more mental health support now, to get ahead of the impending emotional crisis.

How has the pandemic changed your day-to-day job as a benefits leader?

Benefits are being prioritized now more than ever, which is gratifying but also challenging. There has been this feeling of “no pressure, but we really need you to deliver and we need you to deliver now.” Our leadership is gaining more insight into the work of the benefits team. I have leaders saying, “OMG, I had no idea the scope of your work and the benefits/programs that we offer.” It is great to have this response, it means we’re able to make important decisions faster and with far less friction.

With so many other topics to communicate, how are you ensuring that employees are aware of new & existing benefits offered during this time?

Since COVID-19 started we have been sending communications out daily, which means that benefits compete for awareness with other employee news. A new challenge for us has been to stress the importance of mental health and ensure this information does not get buried in the rest of the COVID-19 messaging. So we asked leadership if we could distribute an email dedicated to mental health. To our surprise, it went out the very next day—yet another example of how leadership is prioritizing mental health.

Because much of our team is on the go, we also offer opt-in text messages with benefits updates. Roughly 5,000 employees have opted into mobile text, providing us with another communication channel. As a result of the emphasis we place on communication, and the various channels, we have seen high engagement. 60% of our population has engaged with at least one benefit offering.

Why did you decide to roll out Big Health’s solutions, Daylight & Sleepio?

It was perfect timing and a no-brainer. Daylight & Sleepio are fully virtual, clinically validated, and engaging—everything we were looking for in a solution. Your solutions are helping to fill an important gap in our offerings. Our team did not have much of a conversation, it quickly turned to: let’s get this live, and add it to our resources page ASAP. We so appreciate your support during this time and look forward to our continued partnership!

How is your long-term mental health strategy changing due to COVID-19?

The first “surge” is dealing with the virus. The second “surge” will be supporting the mental health of our employees. As a result, we are being aggressive about our short- and long-term mental health strategies. A key component of which is ensuring we meet our team wherever they are psychological, whether they are in a crisis, or simply need education on first-line treatment options. Our goal is to provide a network of mental health resources that support our entire population.

That said, we do not have it all figured out, we are building the plane and flying it at the same time. But we are heartened that across the organization, employee mental health is a high priority.

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During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Sleepio and Daylight are being made available as treatments for insomnia disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), respectively, without a prescription. Sleepio and Daylight have not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of insomnia disorder and GAD, respectively.

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