Geisinger is placing behavioral health professionals with some of their front-line medical units to make sure workers get the mental breaks they need as hospitalizations rise amid the COVID-19 surge.
Dr. Rosemary Leeming, Geisinger's chief medical officer, said Thursday that doctors and nurses are so busy handling patients, they don't have time to use the services the system has put into place to help them.
"They've all been doing a great job, but we recognized that many of these front-line providers couldn't get out and access that stuff," she said. There were some signs, stress and tension in the teams. So this week, various chaplains and behavioral health colleagues have embedded themselves with the unit just to be there.
"Many of us aren't very good at asking for help," she said.
According to state data, Geisinger had one COVID-19 patient in its Danville facility on Aug. 1. That same day, Evangelical Community Hospital had no COVID patients. On Friday, Geisinger had 119 patients in its Danville facility, including 34 in the ICU. Evangelical was treating 42 patients, including 11 in the ICU.
The surge in hospitalizations has put the front-line workers back in the thick of caring for an overwhelming number of patients, including many who are critical.
There are times when it can become emotionally overwhelming, officials said.
“Geisinger’s system well-being task force has mobilized its team of mental health professionals, ethicists, chaplains, and trained peer supporters to support our front-line staff heavily impacted by COVID," Dr. Charlotte Collins, Geisinger's division chief for professionalism and well-being said. "We check in with them and offer support for their well-being while they continue to care for our sickest patients. Our front-line staff have been stretched to the max since the beginning of the COVID pandemic and continue to rise to the occasion as community spread escalates in the community. Our task force members volunteer to be a listening ear to help staff through these challenging times.”
Leeming and Evangelical Community Hospital President and CEO Kendra Aucker said both hospitals are continually reviewing their services to ensure they have the beds, personnel and supplies to care for COVID-19 patients. Balancing urgent care for critical COVID patients and a steady — yet safe — flow of elective procedures is a daily priority.
“We are being significantly challenged by the surge of COVID-19 in the community. We have more COVID-19-positive inpatients than ever before," Aucker said. "(Thursday there were) 42 COVID-19 patients in our hospital. On top of that we have a significant number of patients seeking our care for other health issues. As a result, we’ve been forced to modulate some services in order to redeploy staff to help with immediate patient care needs."
Leeming said she has several meetings each day to make sure the hospital is prepared for any sort of surge across its footprint.
They also try to think ahead. She said the system backed off some elective procedures in recent weeks with the expectation of an increase in patient flow coming out of Thanksgiving.
"In the spring, people didn't come," for appointments, Leeming said. "Now we have tried to keep all of our primary care offices open. We want people to know that we will take care of you and we will do it safely."
Coming on the heels of Gov. Tom Wolf's new mitigation order on Saturday, Leeming said it is important that Valley residents follow the guidance, including precautions experts have preached for months.
"People call us and ask, 'What can we do to help? We want to buy lunch for staff,'" Leeming said. "The biggest thing you can do is wear a mask. Do all the things we've been telling you to do. We would rather you not get sick in the first place. It can't be stressed enough, it really does work."