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Spectrum Health Among Health Systems Recognized for Addressing Healthcare Worker Well-Being

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   October 27, 2021

Spectrum Health had well-being initiatives in place before the coronavirus pandemic and has launched more efforts during the pandemic.

Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Spectrum Health is one of 44 healthcare organizations nationwide to be recognized by the American Medical Association's Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program.

Healthcare worker burnout and well-being have been top concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. The Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program is designed to recognize health systems that are committed to improving physician satisfaction and decreasing burnout.

Spectrum Health has had a longstanding commitment to healthcare worker well-being, says Kristin Jacob, MD, medical director of the health system's Office of Physician and APP Fulfillment.

"Even before the pandemic, Spectrum Health was committed to focusing on work-related stress and reduction of burnout. The health system promoted a call to action to improve the well-being of our frontline caregivers, and part of that call to action is submitting an organizational commitment statement to the National Academy of Medicine, which states our dedication to reducing clinician burnout and improving well-being," she says.

The Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program provides accountability for well-being efforts at Spectrum Health, Jacob says. "We are continuing to collaborate with other organizations across the country that are doing work to reduce burnout and sharing best practices. The AMA Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program provides another layer of accountability for our organization to focus on measuring well-being, building leadership development, promoting teamwork, and measuring work done outside of working hours, which is a huge driver of burnout."

Addressing burnout and wellbeing

At Spectrum Health, the Office of Physician and APP Fulfillment was established in 2019 to initially focus on physicians and advance practice providers. "The reason for targeting this population first was twofold. First, we know that our physicians and APPs are at the highest risk for burnout, suicidal ideation, and a negative impact on patient care due to these factors. Second, we recognized that we needed to start somewhere," Jacob says.

Spectrum Health has been measuring well-being with a validated tool for several years, she says. "We use the Mayo Clinic Well-Being Index to measure the wellbeing of our physicians and APPs. This is crucial to be able to understand where we are and to create reports based on factors such as specialty, gender, age, and ethnicity to develop targeted interventions."

The pandemic has been taking a toll on healthcare workers at Spectrum Health, she says.

"We have seen a significant increase in the distress of our physicians and APPs over the past year as measured by our validated tool and our engagement surveys. We have seen similar increases in distress among our nurses and other team members. This aligns with the trends we are seeing across the country and puts data behind the toll that the pandemic has taken on us. When we think about the drivers of this distress, we are grappling with extreme staffing shortages that are leading to extraordinary workloads. Michigan is also experiencing, arguably, our worst COVID-19 surge, where most of the rest of the country has been turning the corner."

The Office of Physician and APP Fulfillment launched a well-being program called Med+Up before the pandemic, Jacob says. "Med+Up gathers small groups of physicians and APPs together to have monthly facilitated discussions about meaning in work. These gatherings are intended to be a relaxed setting outside of work to facilitate discussions. This is a best practice that has data behind it showing improvement in meaning in work and reduction of burnout. There are about 100 physicians and APPs who are participating in this program."

Spectrum Health also has employee benefit programs that are designed to boost well-being and reduce burnout, Jacob says.

"From a benefits standpoint, we have a robust healthy lifestyles program that promotes a healthy lifestyle, emotional health, and mental health. The healthy lifestyles program has a strong relationship with our employee assistance program, which can provide in-the-moment support as well as appointments. The employee assistance program is a vital component in supporting our team members. An additional benefit is we partner with Headspace, which is a mindfulness app with data behind it for reducing stress. Headspace was established as a benefit in early 2020 for all Spectrum Health employees."

The health system is committed to suicide prevention among patients and healthcare workers, she says. "We have a zero-suicide initiative that is for our patients, but we also have strong education and processes for team member suicide prevention. We have continued to improve education, awareness, and training around those efforts."

Spectrum Health has launched several initiatives during the pandemic to address healthcare worker well-being and burnout, Jacob says.

"First and foremost, during the pandemic, we have been addressing the basic needs of our workforce. Early in the pandemic, this effort included securing personal protective equipment. We have provided additional benefits to support backup childcare, compassionate paid time off, and support for unexpected time off. There have also been generous wage increases. With the support of many leaders, we have initiated widespread delivery of meals, snacks, water, and free coffee through our nutrition services. We also have wellbeing navigators who are rounding to check on people, see what they need, and connect them with resources. We have placed wellness carts in 150 of our highest acuity spaces that include wellness-related items and tangible resources," she says.

During a COVID-19 patient surge last November and December, Spectrum Health enlisted volunteers to pack more than 3,000 COVID support snack boxes that were delivered throughout the health system's clinical care units, Jacob says. "That effort has evolved, and we are doing targeted funding for our leaders so that they can support the basic needs of their teams and other creative ways to deliver meals to make sure that staff members can eat on their busy shifts."

The health system has been focusing on emotional support during the pandemic, she says. "We have had an extensive rollout of many support groups that we have launched for our caretakers over the past year. We also have had a lot of resources and education around psychological safety and secondary trauma. We recently launched a peer support program, which offers one-on-one peer support for colleagues to process difficult events and chronic stress as well as connect team members to resources."

Resources related to well-being at the health system include the employee assistance program as well as a critical incident stress management team and spiritual care team, Jacob says. "We also partner with Priority Health, which has a platform called myStrength that offers content related to mental health support online. Priority Health also provides access to a phone line so that staff members can seek mental health support outside of the employee assistance program."

Hopeful for the future

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Jacob says she has a positive view about healthcare worker well-being. "The long-term prospects are optimistic. There are silver linings of the pandemic, including the way that the pandemic has brought attention and urgency about mental health awareness. In addition, the pandemic has brought attention and urgency to holistically care for the caregivers of our patients."

The pandemic could be a turning point in efforts to boost healthcare worker well-being, she says. "This may just be the pressure that we need to realign our values in healthcare and realize that human capital is our most crucial resource. There is still much work to do, but I am encouraged by our local leaders and their authentic desire to care for our team members. The conversation that is occurring at the national level is also encouraging—it is putting pressure at a high level to think about what regulatory agencies are doing to put standards of care in place that protect healthcare workers."

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


Spectrum Health established its Office of Physician and APP Fulfillment in 2019.

The health system has been using a validated tool to measure the well-being of physicians and advanced practice providers for several years.

During the pandemic, Spectrum Health has been focusing on the basic needs and mental health of healthcare workers.

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