Meritus team helps employees cope with stress

Your Health Matters

COVID-19 has been a part of our lives for months. While the physical effects of the pandemic are often discussed, we shouldn’t forget the underlying mental and behavioral health impacts — especially among those giving care to patients diagnosed with this virus.

Treating the whole person

A complete prevention and treatment plan for any illness includes a focus on the associated behavioral health problems, in addition to the physical symptoms. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) team at Meritus Health has actively extended additional support and resources to its own health care family during this pandemic.

“Leadership here recognized early that all of the changes and needs related to the pandemic would impact the physical and emotional health and well-being on a crisis level,” said Julie Kugler-Bentley, RN, LCSW-C, CEAP, EAP coordinator for Meritus Behavioral Health. “We were able to quickly mobilize and come up with new educational resources and establish call lines.”

The team began producing videos to educate employees on coping strategies known to be helpful during periods of high stress. A “Mindful Moments” series of short, guided relaxation scripts was created for managers to help lead their employees in a few minutes of relaxation and stress reduction during each shift.

EAP counselors began making daily rounds on hospital units to assist staff with coping and resiliency strategies. Direct call lines were established for employees to call and listen to guided meditation, get tips on stress relief or speak directly to a counselor.

Counseling appointments were extended onto a telehealth platform to adapt the services to the “new normal” the pandemic has brought to the organization.

Greatest concerns 

“Initially, the fear of the unknown seemed to be the most common theme in our conversations with front-line health care professionals,” Kugler-Bentley said. “Protocols changed constantly as we learned more about the virus, so there was always something new to be aware of, which is stressful enough. Then add dealing with the fear of contracting the virus and taking it home to your own family, and the anxiety only rises.”

The additional behavioral health services are proving successful, as team members have reported back that “employees look forward to their visits, express appreciation for the information being offered and are even sharing stories of how they are incorporating coping strategies and techniques into their daily routines,” Kugler-Bentley said.

On a mission of self-care

For many, work is the best therapy to get through crisis situations. With health care professionals, that can lead to “compassion fatigue,” especially in the current pandemic environment that is fast to move in, but slow to retreat.

“Resources that promote self-care for our employees are vital,” Kugler-Bentley said. “Learning to relax. Learning to cope. Remaining hopeful. Mindfulness. We have tried to really focus on these key areas when supporting our front-line employees.”

She said more and more, the EAP team is hearing that Meritus Health employees are listening to meditative music or talks on the way to work and making time to do deep-breathing exercises to start their days off right before even clocking in for work.

Meritus Health, at 11116 Medical Campus Road, east of Hagerstown, is the largest health system in the area, providing hospital and outpatient services to the community.