Hospice of Health First’s Wellness Initiative Helps Staff Prevent Burnout

As hospices contend with increasingly severe staff shortages and widespread staff burnout, Melbourne, Fla.-based Hospice of Health First, a component of the integrated health care delivery network Health First, is developing employee wellness programs designed to improve worker satisfaction and aid in staff retention.

Among hospice and palliative care clinicians, more than 62% have reported experiencing burnout, often leading to fatigue, depression, insomnia, greater risk of illness or substance abuse, social withdrawal or insomnia, research indicates.

Hospices are already struggling to fill their ranks.The United States has 13.35 hospice and palliative care specialists for every 100,000 adults 65 and older, according to an April 2018 study. The research estimated that by 2040 the patient population will need 10,640 to 24,000 specialists; supply is expected to range between 8,100 and 19,000. Aside from normal retirement, burnout is the most likely reason that a clinician will leave the hospice field.

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Hospice of Health First’s wellness programs, particularly its self-care social program, are designed to help staff cope with the emotional stress of caring for the dying, as well as foster well being and camaraderie among employees.

“As our hospice organization has continued to grow, we found associates were becoming what they described as ‘disconnected.’ It became impossible to recreate the sense of a small, close-knit program when our associates covered a 72-mile-long county – many working 12-hour shifts at inpatient units, overnight calls and continuous care shifts,” Valerie Kenworthy, director of Hospice of Health First, told Hospice News. “We wanted to offer associates several things – uninterrupted time to focus on themselves, time with peers, as well as an activity that may prompt a moment of self-reflection. Thus, the self-care social was born.”

The hospice designed the self-care social model to help employees feel more engaged and more valued, and to develop stronger relationships among their team members, including colleagues with whom they rarely interact.

A committee at Hospice of Health First plans and reviews the program’s activities, which include social events such as an annual holiday tree-decorating competition, with entries judged by the hospice’s board of directors. Their most recent event involved sharing a meal and discussions among staff about the sense of purpose they experience in their work and in their lives.

The hospice’s program runs side by side with those of their parent organization Health First’s employee wellness initiatives. Health First employs 9,000 staff, to whom the company offers gym memberships, reimbursement for fitness trackers, an employee assistance program and access to a large medical group.

“The nature of working in hospice can be physically and emotionally stressful. It is important that we take care of ourselves, and most of us know how to physically but miss the emotional part, said Christy Taylor, a Hospice of Health First social worker and participant in the self-care socials. “The opportunity provides us with time to emotionally recharge, by processing our feelings and connecting with our colleagues.”

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