Demand for crackers shaped Salisbury VA Medical Center’s response to stress control during pandemic

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SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) – From the Salisbury Veterans Administration Medical Center, Todd Goodman, Salisbury, VA Public Affairs: When the COVID pandemic first struck, a battle zone memory and demand for crackers led to a model of stress control that Salisbury VA Health Care System has seen become an inspiration to others. establishments.

It all started when Army veteran Dr Marc Cooper, chief of mental health at Salisbury VA, sat in a COVID planning meeting to discuss the increased capacity needed to handle an influx of patients.

“We were talking about different supplies that needed to be purchased when the head of the surgical department asked if his staff could get crackers,” Cooper said. “He said it would be nice to have crackers for the staff to give them some kind of food if they are working double shifts.”

Cooper had envisioned beds in the hallways and was being overrun with COVID patients, but that statement made him reflect on his military experience.

“I realized it looked a lot like a combat zone,” he said. “It would be a great opportunity to create essentially the equivalent of combat service and operational stress control, minus combat.”

He had been in various planning meetings, but when the surgical chief made that comment, it gave Cooper a new perspective.

“It brought the human element to how it was going to affect staff on a personal level,” he said. “It has become obvious that this will really put a strain on them. What can we do to support their stress levels? “

So Cooper assembled a team of employees from mental health, social work, research, employee occupational health, global health, and chaplaincy services. Perhaps the most impactful aspect of Operational Stress Control (OSC) was the ability to quickly communicate information from the front lines to the highest levels of leadership.

“At the height of the pandemic, we did weekly surveys and collected real-time data, a kind of temperature check,” said Dr Christina Vair, psychologist and director of global health. “Management was able to act quickly so that people felt they were heard and that their concerns were taken into account. “

Salisbury VA Director Joseph Vaughn often met with CSO members during the pandemic to get a feel for staff needs and particular areas that required their attention.

“It was an eye opening for sure,” Vaughn said. “As a manager you always put out fires so to speak, and the OSC has certainly informed me of the areas that need it most. “

Stressed staff were able to speak with trained staff and also had the opportunity to learn soothing and relaxation techniques.

“We had to find ways to give people a chance to take a break, whether it was a 15-minute mindfulness practice or stress management resources,” Vair said. “And for the people who couldn’t walk away, it was important to show gratitude and appreciation so that they always felt recognized for their efforts.”

The Salisbury VA healthcare system was the first facility in its network to implement this type of CSO model. He was also recognized by VA secretary Denis McDonough on a recent visit.

Cooper, who patrols various service areas, has seen the effect of registering with the workforce.

“The staff really appreciated being asked how they were doing,” Cooper said. “Even so long into the pandemic, we continue to see staff members showing appreciation for being vetted.”

As of April 2020, the OSC has received over 4,660 individual survey responses, reached 1,007 in-person employees, hosted 125 executive video conferences, and assisted 13 departments with grief and morale issues.

“It’s not easy to work in healthcare even when there isn’t a pandemic,” Vair said. “It’s not just the stress of the pandemic, although it was the fuel for the fire. When we created the OSC, we did so with the intention of creating something that would be sustainable. The ideals of the OSC are essential to good organizational health.

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