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Omaha-area groups step up to help stressed health care workers

Omaha-area groups step up to help stressed health care workers

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With health care workers under stress from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, several Omaha-area organizations are reaching out to support their mental health.

A group that usually helps members of the military, veterans and their families deal with post-traumatic stress disorder is extending its services to health care workers. A first responders support group wants to make health care workers aware that its services are also available to them. And a local medical society plans to open a pop-up wellness center for physicians later this month.

Carol Wang, executive director of the Metro Omaha Medical Society, said health care workers were stressed out before the pandemic. And now the pandemic has stretched on longer than most anticipated, with the delta variant surge sending more patients to hospitals already busy with non-coronavirus patients.

“They are so at the breaking point,” she said.

The medical society plans to open a physician wellness center near 114th Street and West Dodge Road by the end of the month. Serving members and nonmembers, it will offer a place where doctors can go for rest and relaxation and to connect with other professionals and share their experiences.

The center will also offer appointments with a mental health professional and provide yoga and meditation sessions. It will host coffee events and happy hours.

“No one knows how we’re supposed to do this,” Wang said. “... It felt like doing something was better than doing nothing.”

The medical society already offers an anonymous online assessment for health care workers, physicians, medical students and residents. Those showing signs of distress are referred to telehealth experts or local professionals for mental health care and, sometimes, life coaching.

Local health systems, too, have developed initiatives to battle on-the-job stress and burnout.

At Ease USA, which usually serves military personnel and families affected by PTSD, has already begun receiving inquiries after recently extending its offerings to health care workers.

Beth Kramer, the Omaha organization’s executive director, said the group’s clinical manager can help health care workers determine whether what they’re experiencing is PTSD.

The group’s statewide network of mental health professionals uses a number of approaches to address PTSD, including Attention Training. Developed in partnership with Creighton University and Tel Aviv University, the training involves a noninvasive, web-based software that changes the disrupted threat processing associated with PTSD without the need to discuss or relive traumatic events.

“That’s one of the tools we might use with health care workers,” Kramer said. “There is no silver bullet with PTSD.”

If it’s not PTSD, Kramer said, the organization can find other ways to help. The group’s clinical manager sees clients, including via telehealth, and also has vetted providers in such cities as Grand Island and Kearney. At Ease is currently working to add a therapist in Scottsbluff.

Either way, she said, the important thing is for stressed health care workers to take the first step toward getting help. Like active military members and veterans, health care workers often feel that they’re supposed to be invincible. Many also fear the stigma that might come with seeking help.

“Our biggest thing is making sure people know that we’re a resource for them,” Kramer said. “And we’re 100% confidential. We want to remove any and all barriers to treatment.”

The First Responders Foundation initially served firefighters and police. But for the last three years, the group has extended its services to all medical personnel, said Jodi Teal, vice president of operations.

The group provides training on mitigating the effects of stress and trauma as well as peer support groups, spouse groups and an on-staff licensed mental health professional who provides one-on-one sessions. New since January 2020 is the organization’s 8,000-square-foot facility in the Old Mill area of Omaha. It’s geared toward both mental and physical health, offering a lounge and fitness area with CrossFit and yoga classes as well as behavioral health services.

“To those who normally deal with cancer and trauma calls ... this has put a whole other layer on it,” Jason Workman, the foundation’s director of behavioral health, said of the pandemic.

The pandemic, he said, has strained rural emergency medical response systems. Most responders are volunteers, so they don’t have workers’ compensation if they get sick. They also worry about bringing the virus home.

And health care workers also face stressors in their personal lives on top of those they encounter at work.

“That’s where I’m seeing an uptick in needing services,” Workman said.


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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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