Let the Sunshine In

Peer support a bright spot for Tahoe Forest workers

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Sometimes the smallest gestures can make the biggest impact. For those who’ve been working the healthcare frontlines since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the little things can lead to a huge boost in morale.

IT’S A SUNSHINE DAY: Lorna Tirman, patient experience specialist for Tahoe Forest Health System, is preparing the Sunshine Cart before visiting all the departments in the hospital to spread positivity on another busy day. Courtesy photos

An April survey, published by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post, found that more than 60% of frontline healthcare workers say the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Even before the novel coronavirus reared its ugly head, the grueling demands of working in the industry were known to take a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of workers in the field. Recognizing such, the Tahoe Forest Health System in mid-2019 created a Peer Support Committee.

“Emotional support is essential, especially in healthcare. Employees see and deal with challenges that are often stressful,” hospital chief of human resources Alex MacLennan explained in an email to Moonshine Ink. “A Peer Support Committee was formed … to be a resource to better understand these unique circumstances. Employees that serve on the Peer Support Committee have specialized training to help colleagues with these types of issues.”

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As time went on, the hospital peer support umbrella expanded to include additional programs such as Courageous Conversations and Resiliency Rounds, which allow staff members to discuss challenges and frustrations in a group setting surrounded by supportive co-workers. The programs are led by staff members from all levels of the organization in both clinical and non-clinical areas. That means every employee who is part of the daily operations of the hospital — from kitchen staff and cleaning crews to physicians and nurses — can find the emotional support for which they might be in need.

“Healthcare employees are not exempt from feeling the same kinds of stressors on the job or at home during this pandemic,” MacLennan said. “All of TFHS’s employees play an integral role in caring for the communities we serve, and we’re grateful for how well our staff at all levels have pulled together as a team during this challenging time.”

A TISKET, A TASKET, SUNSHINE IN A BASKET: Jessica Weaver and Megan Anderson enjoy the Sunshine Basket, provided by the Tahoe Forest Health System peer support team. The basket is filled with goodies (including healthy options) to spread morale after a tough day while also sharing information to learn about resources for peer support.

Like many organizations, the hospital system, in an effort to keep spirits high, expresses its gratitude to employees on a regular basis with events such as employee barbecues, holiday parties, and special celebrations for length of service (although the pandemic did put the kibosh on the annual employee picnic both this and last summer).

While bigger gatherings and celebrations are great for boosting morale, smaller acts and gestures can make all the difference in someone’s day. That’s where the Sunshine Cart comes into play.

“The Sunshine Cart program started as another way to help boost morale and also introduce employees to the peer support program, including resources that are available to them,” explained Paige Thomason, the hospital’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s been a fun way for employees to stop for a quick break during their busy day.”

The cart travels around the main Tahoe Forest Hospital campus once a week to all departments so everyone has an opportunity to have a snack. Smaller, off-site locations have sunshine baskets for the same purpose, so everyone is included. Each cart is stocked with a variety of sparkling waters and healthy snacks like granola bars, trail mix, and even a few sweet treats. More importantly, informational fliers about coping with stress, mental health, and other resources are also there for the taking.

Support from outside the health system itself has also played an integral part in keeping up employee spirits.

“Our community support is amazing, and our employees are so thankful for this,” Thomason noted. “Generosity really does have a positive impact on everyone, in or outside of the organization. Our team was very grateful for the donated food and coffee and many positive and thankful letters we received about the quality of care that was received. These gestures are heartfelt and help keep morale high.”

As the pandemic continues to ramp up once again, with Covid-19 case numbers at their highest levels yet in the region, the community will no doubt step up to the plate to continue cheering on local healthcare workers. 

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