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Who cares for the caregiver?

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”      —Fred Rogers

When we imagine health care workers – the nurses, doctors, and support staff – we think of their role helping us. We engage with them as patients, sometimes routinely and sometimes at the darkest hours of our lives, as they help us heal. They care for us.

Who cares for them?

The pressures and stressors of a failed marriage, depression, anxiety, or addiction are hard on any of us, but consider when these stressors affect our nurse, our doctor, or the person helping us get to the labor and delivery room. When our communities face tragedies, like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting or a devastating hurricane, we turn to our health care systems to heal us, to fix us. Now, consider the impact of that trauma on the life of the caregiver. Our helpers are coping with the same daily pressures we all experience, and yet, they have chosen to care for us too, in a high-stress workplace.

How Yale New Haven Health System cares for the caregiver

The Employee and Family Resources (EFR) program at Yale New Haven Health System (YNHHS) was established in October 2011 to help support helpers. This year, EASNA, the employee assistance industry’s trade organization, awarded the U.S. Corporate Award of Excellence to YNHHS for its focus on prevention and employee resilience.

YNHHS has implemented simple yet effective methods to help their caregivers live their best lives, and be the best healers, by creating a program that focuses on the practice of mindfulness and prevention. The EFR program partners with Beacon Health Options to support employees with work/life solutions; quick solutions for legal questions; no-cost advice for financial issues up to six no-cost counseling sessions with a licensed mental health and substance use expert; wellness visits; and mindfulness programs. They offer face-to-face courses, online meditations, relaxation audios, and phone meditations.

It is prevention-focused because YNHHS has demonstrated that teaching people mindfulness techniques conveys long-term benefits to a person’s measurable resilience. Their Mindfulness Solutions program results confirm that mindfulness skills taught in an abbreviated format are very effective in decreasing perceived stress (28 percent), as well as in decreasing compassion fatigue and burnout (15 percent). The program’s growth is a testament to YNHHS’s commitment to employee wellness and prevention, to helping the helpers.

[M]indfulness skills taught in an abbreviated format are very effective in decreasing perceived stress (28 percent), as well as in decreasing compassion fatigue and burnout (15 percent).

They also outreach to their medical residents, with a visit to talk about wellbeing, coping strategies, and the EFR program.

With comprehensive programming and a focus on program promotion, YNHHS reached 19.71 percent of its workforce with its Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Mindfulness, and Resident Wellbeing programs in 2017—very high utilization by typical EAP standards.

Taking care of ourselves

It is challenging to think of ourselves as needing care in a culture that promotes self-reliance.

Think of how very revolutionary Yale New Haven Health System is: by recognizing that their employees, our caregivers, face the same everyday traumas we do and by providing programs to help care for their caregivers. The challenge for organizational leaders like those at YNHHS is to ensure that all managers and employees view the EAP as a tool to make lives better.

Wouldn’t our world be a better place, if we follow the lead of YNHHS program participants and practice self-care in order to be the best caregivers that we can be, in our own ways? Engage in your own self-compassion. Listen to a meditation; seek out a class that teaches mindfulness techniques; integrate these practices into your life; improve your own perceived stress; and be a better caregiver to those you encounter every day. Call your EAP today and ask them how.

We can all be the helpers that Mr. Rogers told us about.

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