Summit: Work-life balance paramount for wellness of health care providers

A PANEL of health care specialists offered advice on Thursday to health care workers and their employers during the “Summit for Health Care Professionals: Self Care Strategies for Enduring the Pandemic.
A PANEL of health care specialists offered advice on Thursday to health care workers and their employers during the “Summit for Health Care Professionals: Self Care Strategies for Enduring the Pandemic." From left is Kathleen Boyd, physician health program director at the Rhode Island Medical Society; Diane Mahoney, integrative therapy nurse at The Miriam Hospital; and Dr. Shideh Shafie, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

PROVIDENCE – It’s not enough for health care companies to make self-care resources and wellness initiatives available to their workers, especially during a stressful, deadly pandemic.

Amid busy work schedules and family obligations, health care workers need to be given the time, space and encouragement to take advantage of those opportunities for self-care, said Diane Mahoney, an integrative therapy nurse at The Miriam Hospital.

“It’s not enough to have [the resources],” said Mahoney, who uses yoga, reiki, meditation and mindfulness to help patients and caregivers. “It takes awareness across the organizations and leadership to buy into the utilization of these resources.”

Mahoney was part of a panel offering advice on Thursday morning to health care workers and their employers during the “Summit for Health Care Professionals: Self-Care Strategies for Enduring the Pandemic,” the second in a series of virtual events presented by  Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island in partnership with Providence Business News. The summit featured Mahoney and Dr. Shideh Shafie, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, along with keynote speaker Kathleen Boyd, physician health program director at the Rhode Island Medical Society.

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Boyd said that wellness programs shouldn’t be pushed by employers merely as a way of deflecting from the root causes of stress in the workplace, such as staffing and morale problems.

“They think if I just take yoga or if they offer me free meditation classes, that’s going to make me feel less stressed and burned out,” Boyd said. “Yeah – I get that. But things like staffing and morale – are all part of this important interplay between institutional or organizational issues and the healthcare workers’ personal experience as an engaged member of that organization.”

In addition to offering tips to employers about supporting the health and wellness of their staff – something they said would result in overall better job performance – the panelists spoke about the importance for health care professionals to establish strong boundaries between their work life and personal life.

“If you give 100% of your lemon to your boss, he’s going to squeeze the whole thing,” Shafie said. “That’s his job. … Our job is to decide how much of our lemon to give to him.”

Shafie said it’s sometimes difficult for health care workers to say “no” to requests such as working an extra shift because they have a natural sense of obligation to help people. But in the long run, it’ll help the employee show up in their best, most effective form, emotionally, mentally and physically, when they are satisfied with their work-life balance, she said.

For some people, that could mean being home every night by 6 p.m. to enjoy dinner with family, said Shafie, who recommends people get at least 45 minutes each day for some combination of exercise, social activities and connection/reflection/spirituality.

“Those are the things I know I need to restore myself,” Shafie said. “I schedule that into my time. … ‘I can’t pick up that shift because I haven’t had any time to exercise this week, and spend time with husband and kids, and I need that time to be good.’ ”

Shafie recommended that health care workers not set overly difficult goals for personal wellness. Instead of dedicating oneself to working out for an hour every day at the gym, start by easing in with 15 minutes workouts, she said. Doing so will help health care workers complete their ”stressor cycle,” providing a sense of relief after triggering high stress levels at work.

“A little bit of movement every day really changes things,” said Shafie, who talked about rolling a six-sided cube as a way to pick stress-relieving activities each day, including a self-spa treatment and working out with her Peloton bike.

Mahoney said it’s important for health care bosses to listen to their employees and try to get in touch with their sense of wellbeing, especially during times of high stress.

“Be aware. Be present. Be visible,” Mahoney said. “Just listen and watch. Pay attention to your employees and get to know who they are, so you know when they are not themselves.”

Instead of just striving for nurses to get their bachelor’s degrees or get advanced certifications, health care administrators should first be concerned about the physical and emotional wellbeing of their employees, Mahoney said.

“I think it’s more important to find out the amount of hours of sleep your staff are getting, than the amount of initials after their name,” Mahoney said. “That’s the sign of a great organization, how many healthy members are a part of it.”

At the outset of the virtual summit, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island CEO Peter Marino thanked health care providers for battling through the pandemic, acknowledging the stress they have faced and pledging to offer support.

“We know you are superheroes, but we also know you are not superhuman,” Marino said. “You are human and this pandemic has had an impact on you and your families. You have always been there for us and we certainly want to be there for you.”

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com.

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