‘Stress First Aid’: Medstar Health Adds Worker Wellness Program

‘Stress First Aid’: Medstar Health Adds Worker Wellness Program

We owe a lot to health care workers for the long hours they’ve put in throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A new program for MedStar Health employees aims to help workers handle the challenges of their stressful jobs and demanding schedules. 

The Medstar Health Center for Wellbeing is supporting employees in the D.C. and Baltimore region with backup child care, counseling and mental health resources so they can be better equipped to care for their patients. 

“It’s really just been a lifesaver,” said Dr. Rachael Sussman, a Medstar Health urologist and mother of two young children. 

Like many of us, she has struggled to be a parent and a professional during the pandemic, especially when it comes to finding backup child care. 

Medstar Health has provided background-checked child care providers at a subsidized rate. 

The overall goal of the Center for Wellbeing is to help healers maintain a healthy work-life balance and improve their overall wellness, executive director Dr. Daniel Marchalik said. The initiative had been in the works for years, but the pandemic pushed it up the priority list.

“Now with COVID, it’s really come to the forefront, and we’ve been more aware of it than ever before,” he said. 

In addition to offering backup child care and adult care for all employees, Medstar Health added “recharge rooms” for workers to relax and regroup without having to leave their unit.

They also added wellness rounds about 10 times a month, bringing support and real-time stress relief to workers while they’re on the clock. They offer snacks, stress-management strategies and exercise in short bursts. 

Nurse Crystal Morales said she’s seen the benefits firsthand. Through training, she’s able to identify colleagues who may need mental health support but not know how to ask for it.

“By teaching stress first aid, we were easily able to create a common language and check in with people,” she said. 

Originally designed for members of the military and people coping with post-traumatic stress, the Stress First Aid program helps people pinpoint their stress level using green, yellow, orange or red to indicate how they’re feeling.

The wellbeing programs are available to MedStar Health’s 30,000 employees in the region. The hospital system is gathering research on best practices in the hope of sharing the information with hospitals across the country. The goal is to change the way health care workers approach their own health while caring for others. 

For Sussman, the urologist and mom, the wellbeing programs have helped give her peace of mind so she can focus on what matters. 

“This takes away that stress and allows me to be fully present and focus all of my attention on my patients, which is really the ultimate goal of what I do,” she said. 

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