Providers Continue to Inspire and Support Colleagues and Clients during Pandemic

While NJAMHAA member providers continue to demonstrate their dedication to serving clients during the coronavirus crisis, they are also adapting to new ways of delivering services, applying new guidelines and other information from the state and federal governments and contending with intensified fiscal limitations.

Despite the stress that providers are experiencing during this unprecedented situation, many have participated on conference calls and responded to e-mails to share their effective practices for ensuring uninterrupted delivery and consistent high quality of services.

"I am truly awed by those on the frontlines and how they have been responding to this changed world and unprecedented crisis. They are working incredibly long hours, placing themselves at risk and making personal sacrifices," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA. She added that NJAMHAA has been advocating on the state and federal levels for providers to receive personal protective equipment (PPE) and additional funding, as well as relaxation of regulations, which has been achieved regarding provision of services via telehealth.

"Not only is providers' physical health at risk, but also their mental health as their work can exact an emotional toll at any time and especially during this more intensely stressful and challenging situation," Dr. Wentz added. NJAMHAA is pleased to share with members what some of their colleagues are doing to help those they serve, their coworkers and themselves throughout these difficult times.

Strategies for Continuing to Provide Quality Care for Clients
The following strategies are used in addition to delivering services through telehealth when feasible; modifying schedules as needed; cleaning the offices of agencies more deeply and frequently than before the crisis; providing PPE when needed; and following guidelines, such as social distancing.

"To address ongoing basic food needs, our Consumer Support Services, working in conjunction with the Department of Children and Family Services and Mt. Carmel Guild, are providing 'Grab and Go' non-perishable food bags in Mercer and Burlington Counties," Lisa Lawson, LCSW, Director of Clinical & Integrated Health, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, shared.

At the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the staff have helped families obtain Wi-Fi, e-mail addresses and iPads. "We also sourced them with food and other necessities and we did drop-offs of supplies to the families with our transportation team. We dropped off everything from worksheets [used in counseling sessions], tension reduction items for the children and work supplies, such as paper and pencils," said Carl J. Wolfarth, MA, LPC, ACS, Operations Manager, Children's Intensive Emotional and Behavioral Services, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Recommendations for Supporting Staff
The following strategies are used in addition to maintaining communication through e-mail, telephone, videoconferencing and texting, and encouraging staff to share "non-shop" talk during some of these interactions.

At the Center for Family Services, Linda Mur, PhD, LCADC, Associate Vice President, Adult Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorder Services, provided staff with guidelines for telehealth, including setting up cameras and work spaces, and suggestions for being as productive as possible while also taking care of themselves. In addition, the agency's trauma response team offers support groups for the employees.

"At Mountainside Hospital, we are working closely with Pastoral Care to offer mindfulness and spirituality supports to our team members throughout the day. Additionally, we created serenity space within the staff break rooms near their home units because the time is limited to go off the units while caring for the volume of patients with critical needs," said Shavonda Sumter, Director of Behavioral Health Services and New State Assemblywoman. "Finally, the community has established a food fund to send meals to the hospital for staff. This has been a tremendous act of kindness to help staff to keep their health and strength."

Anna Kline, MAE, Director, Integrated Case Management Services (ICMS) and Justice Involved Services, Preferred Behavioral Health Group (PBHG), strongly encourages her teams to take breaks throughout the day by going for safe walks, stopping to eat, making some tea or coffee, walking their dogs and participating in Employee Assistance Program webinars that address compassion fatigue and self-care. PBHG also sends weekly company-wide trauma-informed care e-mails, which provide tips, resources and inspiration, and posts a weekly trauma-informed COVID related blog," according to Tara Chalakani, MS, LPC, NCC, RN, Vice President, Youth and Family Mental Health Services.

Debbie Riddle, MSW, LCSW, CEO and Co-Founder of Total Family Solutions, shared that the agency initiated a Healthy Walk initiative. "Each employee is encouraged to take frequent breaks and go outside and walk. At the end of the week, they send their total accumulated minutes in via e-mail. Gift cards are awarded to the individuals with the most accumulated minutes. For the minutes to count, they have to be during the employees' regular work days," she explained.

Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care created a self-care webinar series with each topic featured twice each week throughout April. "Topics include breathe, pause, move, nourish the mind and the body, and sleep - all to reduce anxiety and stress, and improve mood," according to Peggy Swarbrick, PhD, FAOTA, Innovation Director.

In addition to business during check-ins with Oaks Integrated Care group team meetings, the staff shares "fun ideas, such as crock pot recipes (managing kids' schooling at home and work is tough!), relaxation techniques, free online yoga videos, and just sharing how we are feeling," said Renee Carrillo, ICMS Team Leader. "Sharing success stories during this pandemic about our individuals served always help keep our teams motivated! Staff-to-staff and staff-to-consumer, we are all trying to instill hope, wellness and empowerment!"

Acenda Integrated Health has implemented numerous initiatives, including the development of an internal app through which inspirational quotes are shared, staff members are featured, including employees sharing how their coworkers are doing a great job, according to Greg Speed, MSW, LCSW, Chief Integration Officer. Another internal app, created by the agency's Wellness and Engagement Committee, presents fitness challenges. Through the ZoomUnity software, uplifting backgrounds, such as the Grand Canyon and air balloons in New Mexico, are shown during check-in meetings, which are held once or twice each day. Some of the staff also use ZoomUnity to virtually meet for lunch and celebrate each other.

During daily calls involving the executive team and division leaders, work-life balance, as well as operational issues and strategies, are discussed. "Structure is critically important for staff and we provide tools to help them achieve this. We help them schedule time to help their children with school work and other time together with kids and other family members, and we reinforce this with staff," Speed said.

The New Jersey Prevention Network supports peer recovery specialists with a new safe space where they meet twice each week to discuss issues and strategies that can assist in their overall health and well-being, according to Janine Fabrizio, LCSW, LCADC, CPS, Program Director. "Similar to in-person meetings, the goals of these virtual sessions are to discuss universal recovery topics that will guide interactive solution-based discussions and assist in the promotion of self-care, health and wellness," she explained.

Techniques for Self-Care

Not having to drive to work has created opportunities to exercise and get fresh air. For example, Dr. Mur at the Center for Family Services, shared, "Without the hour I lose in my commute, I've had the energy and time at the end of the day to go on a nice, de-stressing bicycle ride." Similarly, Speed has been using the extra time he has to ride his treadmill and take walks. He also communicates with his grandchildren at least once a day and he now limits watching the news to once a day because excessive exposure to news about coronavirus and other unfortunate situations can lead to depression or anxiety. "My wife and I used to watch the news during dinner. Now, we listen to music. Sleep is also very important," he said.

"I have tremendous faith and I know most of us will survive this. I accept that the world will look different and vow to adjust. I spend time with my family, journal my wish list for places to go and things to do when the pandemic has settled and enjoy brainless television," Kline noted.

Dr. Swarbrick shared the following tips in the most recent issue of Words of Wellness, a publication of Collaborative Support Programs of NJ, where she serves as Director, Institute for Wellness & Recovery Initiatives:
? Focus on what makes you feel grateful.
? Laugh whenever you can.
? Keep your mind occupied: Enjoy a virtual museum tour, concert or podcast online; engage in crafts and other creative activities; bake; and stay socially connected.
? Take frequent walks - outside if it is safe.
? Catch up on cleaning and organizing your home.
? Try breathing and moving strategies. Click here and here for resources.

Looking Ahead

While the many challenges associated with the coronavirus crisis certainly keeps everyone extremely busy, the future, post-pandemic world is also on people's minds.

"This crisis provided an opportunity for staff to work innovatively and collaboratively. We need to build on this when things go 'back to normal'," Speed said. "We don't want to fall back on old ways of doing business. We need to continue new ways of supporting staff and clients, and avoid falling into silos."

"Doing everything we can and more to support members during the coronavirus crisis, NJAMHAA is already looking to the future and exploring strategies to continually strengthen our association and our members," Dr. Wentz said. "Always please remember that NJAMHAA, your trade association, is here for you during good times and not-so-good times!"

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