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A Balancing Act - Promoting Health in Healthcare

It has been said that the strength or weakness of an organization’s culture is magnified during times of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a crisis unlike any other.

For Victoria Hospital Foundation, the pandemic elevated our commitment to our community - to our patients, families, and staff. It didn’t take long for the Health and Wellness Committee to realize the importance of staff well-being during the pandemic. The Foundation’s Healthy Community Grant will help the Committee do just that, supporting their work this year and for the next three years to come. The continued emphasis on the health and wellness of frontline healthcare workers has empowered our staff, and supported creativity and innovation in patient care. 

The pandemic brought forth unexpected and continued disruptions to regular routines in every phase of our lives. Both at work and at home; from travel bans and closure of non-essential organizations to physical distancing and school closure mandates, the pandemic made it difficult for people to access their usual coping methods. The interventions staff used to stay well became inaccessible. More than ever before, it became important for staff to put energy into their own health and peace of mind.

Wellness is a multifaceted and multidimensional concept that can be described in a variety of ways and embodied in numerous conditions. For many, wellness begins with becoming educated and aware enough to engage with and make healthy, sustainable choices. These choices and their pursuit lead us toward longer, healthier and more successful lives. Organizational wellness is usually found integrated into workplace culture and is enhanced through health and wellness programs. They are attributed to creating happier employees that are better at decision making, creative thinking, have good judgment and higher morale.

At Victoria Hospital, The Health & Wellness Committee is responsible for this programming and is committed to supporting mental, physical, and psychological health and wellbeing of all hospital staff. The Committee is made up of a group of passionate employees who believe that the health and wellness of themselves and their colleagues is paramount in maintaining their strength and resiliency while at work. Ultimately, this ensures enhanced patient care.

Employees volunteer their time on this committee to organize and plan events that support the physical, mental and emotional needs of all Victoria Hospital employees. The Health & Wellness Committee worked to develop targeted intervention strategies and establish long-term mechanisms for health and wellness. This in turn helped build resilience, giving staff the tools to bounce back from tough situations and thrive in the face of ever evolving adversity. Stefanie Turner, Manager of Therapeutic Services is the Chair of the Victoria Hospital Health and Wellness Committee. The committee consists of 12 members and serves the over 1,000 staff at Victoria Hospital.

She shared, “It's been challenging for a lot of healthcare workers. They all want to do their best and provide excellent services to patients but we all know the challenges that the healthcare system has experienced during the pandemic. I think they often feel pulled in various directions in terms of going above and beyond and providing for patients and their families but yet also taking care of themselves at the same time. Sometimes, that’s really challenging.”

The Committee gathered feedback from staff after a survey to help shape their goals for the coming year. The feedback received, helps pave the way for programming organized by the committee and included programming revolving around nutrition and sleep hygiene. Staff are known to rely on each other for support and managers take on the responsibility to support their coworkers as much as they can.

Turner specified that, “The work of the committee allows us to take this a step further and provide additional concrete resources for staff.”

The committee introduced several strategies to encourage staff wellbeing, ranging from creating resources to improving workplace culture. One of the interventions introduced in the Winter of 2021 was to send out mindfulness and meditation recordings that staff could reflect on. While this was a resource, it also promoted a culture of wellness at the hospital. 

Staff have shared that their work life and wellbeing has greatly improved by these changes and shared feedback.

Turner emphasised, “Our healthcare system is our staff. With the recent recruitment and retention challenges in healthcare, it has become apparent that there is great benefit in taking care of our staff. The reciprocal benefit is excellent service and care to patients.” It is incredibly important for the committee to be able to bring “wellness 'to' VH employees rather than having employees 'go' to events.”

Turner elaborated, “Understandably, healthcare workers are engrossed in their work and it's hard for them to step away from it. We want to make wellness easy and accessible and integrate it into the culture of our work.”

By making wellness an integrated priority, the tasks that healthcare workers engage in will contribute to their health rather than take away from it. Planning on-unit activities to support staff can be a challenge and requires creativity to ensure ease of access.

Turner added, “The biggest challenge has been pandemic related factors. It's affected the space on units and how we can interact with staff.”

Nonetheless, the committee has found ways to support, develop, and implement innovative employee wellness programs to engage staff and increase their resilience.

Integrating Wellness to Build Resiliency 

Wellness programming hosted by the committee included Self Care Bingo, a ‘Walk for Wellness’ Challenge, meditation recordings and nutritional snack carts.

Turner shared, “We’ve hosted nutrition and hydration carts with individually wrapped healthy snacks that we were able to distribute on the units.”

All units are invited to participate in the activities that are planned and beyond activities to engage staff, efforts are being made to educate staff on wellness and help them communicate their needs. 

Two women walking outside  Three women holding coffee and bananas

The benefits are tremendous. Turner is a manager herself and her passion for her coworkers’ health and well-being is evident.

“As an Occupational Therapist, I know that I went into this profession because I believed in holistic health and in the connection of all parts of the individual. All parts of your life are important in terms of the work you do both at work and at home. I’m quite passionate about health and wellness so joining this committee was the perfect fit for me.”

Her work with the Committee helps build staff resilience through the activities presented, positively impacting staff mental health, well-being and productivity. 

At the ‘Walk Across Canada’ challenge presented by the committee, staff were encouraged to log and submit their steps to be entered for a prize draw. This activity was incredibly accessible for staff. It was so popular that it has returned for a second year, this time staff will, ‘Walk Across Australia’.  Future plans of the Committee include a Wellness Summit and the development of sleep hygiene resources.

Individuals outside the Committee and people visiting the hospital can help support the work of the Committee, Turner revealed a clear but often undervalued sentiment,

“Saying thank you goes a long way. While it doesn’t seem like much, feeling recognized with something simple does help staff in terms of their health and wellness.” 

Victoria Hospital Foundation is also supporting the wellness of staff at Victoria Hospital and ACCESS Fort Garry through our exclusive line of Support Our Healthcare Workers t-shirts and hoodies. The proceeds from all clothing sales are invested in our COVID-19 Critical Response Fund to support staff health and wellness initiatives.

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Victoria Hospital’s Health and Wellness Committee is supported by Victoria Hospital Foundation’s Healthy Community Grant. This is a stellar example of how the Foundation, Hospital and staff come together to support the mental and physical health of our healthcare workers. By investing in our staff, we are investing in the health of our community and our hospital. Your generous donations mean that front line healthcare workers are getting the support they need to provide excellent patient care. Your ongoing support is a game changer in our ability to support advancements in our community.