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How to Establish Coronavirus Employee Wellness Support Teams at Hospitals

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   April 16, 2020

Surges of coronavirus patients, patient deaths from the virus, and hospital cutbacks due to financial pressures during the pandemic strain workforces.

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic threatens to surge hospital patients in Missouri, Children's Mercy is launching initiatives to support the wellbeing of the organization's employees.

With coronavirus patients surging beyond New York, the COVID-19 pandemic is straining healthcare organization workforces from coast to coast. The United States has more reported COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country, at more than 644,000 cases and more than 28,000 deaths as of April 16, according to worldometer.

Kansas City, Missouri-based Children's Mercy established its COVID Employee Wellness Support Team to address a pressing need during the coronavirus pandemic, says Jennifer Bickel, MD, a practicing neurologist and COVID employee wellness officer at the hospital.

"The wellbeing of our caregivers is directly related to the wellbeing of our patients. There have been repeated studies showing that when healthcare providers—whether they are physicians or nurses—have problems with depression or burnout they are more likely to make safety errors and less likely to engage in a meaningful way with the patient," she says.

The wellness initiative is designed to formalize efforts to support the wellbeing of staff members during the coronavirus pandemic, Bickel says. "For everybody who goes into healthcare, one of our biggest callings is to be able to take care of people, and many of our colleagues are being drawn into taking care of each other. So, by developing the COVID Employee Wellness Support Team, we were able to develop an umbrella for how our employees can support each other."

How wellness support team works

Bickel says the COVID Employee Wellness Support Team features two dozen psychologists, clinical social workers, chaplains, and hospital leaders who have launched several initiatives.

  • Clinical specialty teams can set up virtual support groups
  • Mental health professionals can meet with employees one-on-one virtually or in-person to help them cope with fear, anxiety, and managing change
  • The Ronald McDonald Respite Room in the hospital is available to all employees from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. to provide access to food, aromatherapy patches, meditation services, workout equipment, and wellbeing support services
  • Hospital mindfulness experts are leading employees through virtual guided meditation three times per day
  • A 10-minute meditation is conducted at the start of a daily COVID-19 planning call attended by about 100 hospital leaders
  • All of the hospital's information on wellbeing has been placed on a single web page that is available to the entire staff
  • Psychologists, social workers, and chaplains are conducting wellness rounds in the hospital emergency department and the neonatal intensive care unit

Planned initiatives include expanding respite rooms beyond the main hospital, offering one-on-one counseling sessions to affiliated community physicians, and conducting an American Medical Association COVID-19 wellness survey.

Wellness support team building blocks

Senior leadership was the key to creating the COVID Employee Wellness Support Team at Children's Mercy, Bickel says.

"Having executive leadership has allowed us to put together a team of our own compassionate experts—including psychologists, social workers, and chaplains—to help our employees. Then, we divided those experts to develop teams to work on initiatives," she says.

Drawing on internal experts at the hospital is an essential ingredient of the program, Bickel says. "This is not a time to bring in external consultants. Every hospital has established wellbeing initiatives, and you should build on those rather than break them down to form entirely new initiatives."

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


The COVID Employee Wellness Support Team at Children's Mercy features two dozen psychologists, clinical social workers, chaplains, and hospital leaders.

The program has launched several initiatives, including one-on-one employee counseling, respite rooms for staff, and guided meditation sessions.

The support of senior leadership was essential to establish the program.

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