MHA CEO Report - Mental Health Impact from COVID-19

Posted on September 01, 2020

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” Fred Rogers

MHA CEO Brian PetersBefore COVID-19, increasing demands on physician and administrative leaders created an epidemic of burnout. The Triple Aim, a framework developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, is built on achieving better patient outcomes, creating a better patient experience and lowering healthcare costs. Over the past several years, the model also began focusing its efforts on a fourth goal of improving the work/life balance of healthcare providers, while incorporating the other three aims, in order to address the issue of burnout.

Yet, even our most successful organizations that implemented the Quadruple Aim could not have foreseen the challenges faced by the healthcare workforce from the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have they experienced significant physical demands, but they arguably have endured an even greater strain on their mental health. Besides their roles as physicians, nurses and clinicians, hospital workers are parents and caregivers. They have dealt with the stress and fear of treating patients with a highly infectious disease and possibly transmitting that disease back to their loved ones at home. They have shared the grief and loss of their patients at rates they may have never experienced before, all while providing comfort when patients’ loved ones weren’t able to be physically present due to new infection control protocols that include strict visitation policies.

According to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, over half of adults in the U.S. reported poor mental health due to worry and stress over COVID-19. Specific to healthcare professionals, a review conducted by the medical journal QJM found that the rates of anxiety could be as high as 70% with rates of depression as high as 40%. Other issues reported by these sources include insomnia, burnout, emotional exhaustion, difficulty eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions.

While we have been successful in flattening the curve of hospitalized COVID patients in Michigan, the mental recovery needed for those suffering from these traumatic experiences can take months or years. This month is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and over recent years we have seen a tragic increase in physician suicide, which is now among the highest of any profession. We recognize that nurses and other clinicians are subject to similar stressors as well. We want to convey to the over 234,000 staff who work in our member hospitals that sharing your mental struggles and seeking help is encouraged. Resources exist and are offered through both our hospitals or health systems, and community partners.

To bolster those resources, the MHA successfully advocated for the distribution of $5.1 million in behavioral health grants to inpatient psychiatric hospitals and psych units from the prepaid inpatient health plans. The MHA appreciates the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services initiating the payments, which are being funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act.

The MHA Council on Behavioral Health Integration also plays an important role in exploring and examining issues unique to our members who deliver behavioral healthcare services. Chaired by Selena Schmidt, director of outpatient services, Ascension Michigan and staffed by Laura Appel, senior vice president and chief innovation officer, MHA, the council develops recommendations addressing access and fostering integration with the greater healthcare delivery system. A key initiative currently being worked on is standardizing guidance for care of emergency department patients in psychiatric distress.

To increase awareness, the MHA is also hosting a Twitter chat from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9 on the topic of mental health as it relates to COVID-19, which will feature input from guest expert Brian Ahmedani, PhD, Center for Health Policy & Health Services Research at Henry Ford Health System. For those unfamiliar with a Twitter chat, the MHA Twitter account will be facilitating several questions during the hour to spark conversation among participants on this very important topic. We encourage you to consider participating or having your organization participate to demonstrate your support for our healthcare heroes.

Lastly, the MHA is also receiving assistance from the American Hospital Association (AHA) on this issue. While circumstances related to the pandemic have necessitated the cancellation, the MHA was prepared to offer in partnership with the AHA a three-day retreat later this month to help physicians and other clinicians process the emotional toll and loss of normalcy created by the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain optimistic that similar offerings will be available in the future.

The health and well-being of our workforce continues to be a priority, and we will always assist and advocate for our members and the healthcare heroes that make up their organizations. The jobs of our healthcare providers rarely slow down, and as healthcare leaders, we must make sure our attention to safety goes beyond that of patients and includes our caregivers. They have selflessly served on the front lines of an unprecedented global pandemic and deserve all our support.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.


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  • MHA CEO Report - Mental Health Impact from COVID-19

Tags: Brian Peters, Quadruple Aim, CEO Report, MHA Council on Behavioral Health Integration, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Posted in: MHA Rounds

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