Helping health care workers stay whole

SSUH opens new employee wellness center

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The past few years have been extraordinarily difficult for workers in the health care field. The COVID-19 pandemic and long work hours have driven many health workers to burnout.

According to the Association of Medical Colleges, physician demand will continue to grow faster than supply, leading to a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033. The most alarming gaps are expected in primary and rural communities.

To help combat burnout and focus on the entire well-being of its employees, South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore recently opened a wellness center. Part gym, part yoga studio and part emotional wellness center, the space is designed as a place of respite for its employees.

Dr. Heidi Levine, emergency room physician and wellness center leader at SSUH, said the idea for the wellness center was presented right before the pandemic, but due to COVID-19, the idea was placed on pause. The conversation about the center was picked back up again in the early fall of 2021, which led to the center’s creation.

The center features workout machines, including the popular Peloton bike, as well as a room for yoga, with mats and blocks provided.

During the opening week of the center, some trial classes were offered to employees, but Andrew Adrian, senior finance and operations management associate, said that they are currently working on setting up a class schedule and a way for employees to register for classes.

Dr. Levine noted that the wellness center is one of the many ways SSUH has been stepping up their commitment to employee wellness in the last few years.

During COVID, the hospital set up a little pseudo-grocery store for employees to pick up fresh food and essentials.

“The grocery store was amazing,” Dr. Levine said. “Honestly, where I live, I couldn’t even get things like toilet paper, and I have a family of five, so you can imagine. It was really great being able to get beautiful, fresh produce, which was off the shelves.”

Last September, the hospital had a Wellness Week. September is National Suicide Awareness Month and National Physician Suicide Awareness Day is on Sept. 17. The week featured a farmers’ market, raffles, chair yoga, and even financial advisors that employees could speak to about financial wellness.

“Everybody has something different that’s their priority, so we wanted to try and cover as many bases as we could,” Dr. Levine said.

In June, for Pride Month, and in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, the hospital held a Day of Embrace. Town of Islip supervisor Angie Carpenter came and spoke at the hospital to show support to the staff.

In addition, there is a wellness cart that comes to each floor that has little self-care items that employees can take, such as water, granola bars, or hand lotion. Dr. Levine said that Chapstick is the cart’s biggest hit, even over chocolate.

“It’s just something to say, ‘It’s okay to stop in the middle of the day and take care of yourself,’” Dr. Levine said. “Traditionally, medicine, whether it’s nursing or if you’re a physician, it’s always just ‘go.’ You’re hardcore, you’re going to push through. It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry, tired, or need the facilities. You just push through. That’s kind of how it’s been. And that also includes pushing down emotions, and that’s not what we want. That’s not what keeps people whole. That does, unfortunately, lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout.”

In August, SSUH will be tabling about drug abuse awareness, not only in the hospital, but in the emergency department.

“We want to be able to inform our community,” Dr. Levine said. “We want to get Narcan kits out there. We will be tabling outside the main entrance of the ER. That way, we’re not only educating our staff, but we’re educating our community as well.”

“Now we have a physical structure to be the sort of vision and symbol for all of these different initiatives,” Adrian said. “We used to have all of these different events that happen outside, but now we have them outside the wellness or even in the wellness center, and now you have this sort of symbol to be like, this is wellness. It just gives it an actual space to kind of live and breathe and evolve. It’s not only just a gym. It can have all these different educational purposes, too.”

The new wellness center is open from 5 a.m. to midnight every day and is located right by the employee entrance, making it convenient for workers to stop by before or after a shift.

For Dr. Levine, the new center is the “cherry on top of the sundae” for all the hard work she and Adrian have put into helping employees as a whole, and she hopes to continue growing the center and what it offers.  

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