We use cookies to improve your experience on our site. Please accept the Privacy Policy to continue.

New York City Council Oversight Hearing: New York City Hospitals’ Response to the Mental Health Needs of Frontline Health Care Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Eric Wei, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer
Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Good morning Chairperson Rivera, Chairperson Ayala, members of the Committee on Hospitals and members of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction. I am Dr. Eric Wei, Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals (Health + Hospitals). I am joined by Dr. Charles Barron, Deputy Chief Medical Officer in the Office of Behavioral Health. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on Health + Hospitals’ response to the mental health needs of frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While New York City is slowly re-opening after the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, let us not forget that while we were in the eye of the storm, Health + Hospitals was at the epicenter of this scourge and our heroic healthcare workers were on the front lines providing lifesaving care to New Yorkers. We recognized early in the pandemic that the emotional and psychological toll on our healthcare workers posed a significant threat of a mental health crisis on top of the public health crisis of COVID-19.

Health + Hospitals is fortunate to have two strong teams for support programs: Behavioral Health Services and the Helping Healers Heal (H3) program. We immediately put these two teams together for planning and preparation in January to form a COVID-19 staff support steering committee that launched an official strategy in March. The team assembled COVID-19 specific resources, including a mental health hotline and wellness/respite rooms. Wellness champions also conducted wellness rounds to proactively assess for signs and symptoms of traumatic stress and compassion fatigue, as well as provided on the spot services for staff unable to leave their clinical areas.

Also, through generous donations, we’ve received more than $27 million, which includes groceries, transportation, meals for staff, and child care. Health + Hospitals’ goal continues to be ensuring our staff have access to both the support that will carry them through this period, as well as training and resources to support their wellbeing through the pandemic, including partnership with leading experts on staff resiliency. Internal to Health + Hospitals we have conducted 34 system-wide trainings, including 17 unique curriculums, to enhance the understanding and improve competence of how to manage emotions and support others during crisis.

Our staff were and still are experiencing an immense amount of emotionalpsychological trauma and stress. At Health + Hospitals, we value each employee and their physical, emotional, and psychological safety and wellness is our top priority.

We are grateful to the Mayor, First-Lady and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for their expertise and collaboration in rolling out a stress management and resilience training series so that we will be able to further augment support for our workforce. Health + Hospitals is collaborating with DoD, the Greater New York Hospital Association, and four other agencies to support healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic through the Healing, Education, Resilience, & Opportunity for New York’s Frontline Workers (HERONY) Initiative. The new program will tailor elements of the DoD combat stress management and resilience program for military personnel into needs assessments and a webinar training series to be used in civilian healthcare and first responder settings across the city. The first two trainings occurred on June 3 and June 10, and was attended by over 1,250 frontline workers, including many staff at Health + Hospitals. The training content has been guided by field expertise of the DoD, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Veterans Affairs, and other taskforce experts who contributed content and are participating on panel discussions.

These trainings will serve as the content for a train-the-trainer model, for staff throughout the system (both Behavioral Health Services and stakeholders in the H3 initiative). Those who receive training will facilitate trainings to mental health specialists, spiritual care and emotional and psychological wellness program leads at their respective health care systems. The ‘Train the Trainer’ education has been available virtually on GHNYA hosted webinars for all participating NYC healthcare systems. To better support health care workers, in-person and virtual training sessions can be customized based on targeted needs assessments. The DoD supported webinar trainings will inspire organizations to begin training at their respective institutions upon completion of the HERO-NY training series the first week of July. Health + Hospitals began identifying the Master Trainers for facilitybased trainings in May.

This work builds upon Health + Hospitals’ established the H3 program. The program offers frontline healthcare workers direct mental health support in the form of a dedicated, anonymous behavioral health helpline (M-F, 9 am – 12 midnight) staffed by licensed mental health practitioners – over 115 staff have called the hotline; peer support champions for one-on-one or group support; and 30 wellness areas across 11 hospitals and five skilled nursing facilities for staff to take respite from patient care areas. The program also supports wellness rounds at all facilities to actively engage employees working in areas heavily affected by COVID-19 – over 4,500 have occurred to date. Wellness rounds focus on identifying and supporting employees showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue and burnout, and connecting them to services if requested—including one-on-one telephonic, inperson debrief, or anonymous counseling. We’ve begun scheduling standing H3 group debriefs across all services and sites, have enhanced access to individual oneto- one support sessions, established ongoing wellness events utilizing skills-sets of licensed clinicians to facilitate art and experiential directives, as well as have leveraged time during staff meetings to help people process grief. It’s an internal goal to have every staff member participate. This will help us process emotions together as an organization. Departments will also be able to identify if someone is struggling and in need of additional support – no one should be suffering alone. The devastating loss of patients has and continues to ripple across the health care system as staff members grapple with anxiety and stress from grief, strenuous workdays, isolation from loved ones and concerns about an uncertain future. Health + Hospitals has and will continue to support our frontline workers. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today and we look forward to your questions.