Whether they’re banging pots and pans, hanging rainbow signs in windows or donating personal protective equipment, people have come up with creative ways to thank health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Einstein Healthcare Network administrators have their own approach: goody bags.
“The idea was to go up and recognize the team members and what they were doing,” said Organizations Development Specialist Mikaela Polman of the Wellness Ambassadors program, which supplies Einstein’s front-line workers with snacks and appreciation.
Polman helped create the program with funding provided by Richard and Betsy Sheerr.
“It was obvious that philanthropy was required to facilitate Einstein getting through this situation,” said Richard Sheerr, a philanthropist and former chairman of Einstein’s Board of Trustees. “We wanted to help the people who are engaged in this battle.”
Betsy Sheerr said they were guided by their desire to “help the helpers.”
“There’s so much they do for other people, and they never ask for acknowledgment. We wanted to make sure they know we are grateful and appreciative of their sacrifices,” she said of Einstein’s staff.
Every Wednesday, Einstein’s Wellness Ambassadors deliver goody bags to everyone working in the hospital, including doctors and nurses, mailroom staff and janitors.
In addition to snacks like chips and chocolate bars, the bags contain lotion to soothe hands that have been chapped from constant washing. Wellness Ambassadors also added mints and lip balm after speaking to staff who mentioned breathing stale air under the N95 masks they wear for hours every day.
“These are the biggest items people can really use,” Polman said. “We get these great deals from vendors who are really supportive and want to be helpful.”
The program is also an opportunity for staff whose hours have been reduced due to COVID-19. Physical therapy aides, receptionists and patient safety representatives for elective surgeries have make up lost hours by working as Wellness Ambassadors.
Polman joined the hospital Wellness Committee that launched the initiative in late March, and the first round of bags went out April 8. Since then, Wellness Ambassadors have prepared 3,000 bags every Tuesday to distribute to hospital staff on Wellness Wednesdays.
“Tuesday is what we call the wellness bag-stuffing extravaganza,” said Juanita Way, associate vice president for corporate partnerships.
Way collaborates with three to five employees to prepare the bags from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We pretty much work the whole day,” she said.
The small team of masked and gloved staff work together in a large 240-person auditorium where they can maintain social distancing. Way wipes down tables before everyone arrives.
“I tell them, ‘I appreciate everything that you do — there’s no way I could pack 3,000 bags by myself,’” she said.
The next day, the Wellness Ambassadors spread out to drop off bags in break rooms across the Philadelphia and Elkins Park hospital campuses.
Research educator and psychologist Lynne Unikel said Wellness Ambassadors adhere to hospital-wide safety protocols to keep deliveries as safe as possible.
“They wear masks, everything’s all packaged up and they go to break rooms,” she explained. “They’re walking around saying ‘hi’ to staff, but they’re not in any patient-facing rooms.”
Laura Romano, director of spiritual care and mindfulness, said the Wellness Ambassadors program is one part of Einstein’s effort to help staffers maintain their mental health during the stress of the pandemic.
“Our behavioral health team is prioritizing behavioral health appointments for Einstein employees. We’ve also been putting out links to resources outside of Einstein as well because it can be overwhelming for people and a little hard to navigate,” she said.
The hospital is offering daily call-in support groups, guided mindfulness meditation sessions and interfaith prayer meetings twice a day. Hospital chaplains are available to offer support.
“We have an amazing team of chaplains who are there not just for the patients and the families at this time but also for our staff,” Romano said.
Unikel said the response to the program has been positive. She usually checks in with the Wellness Ambassadors from an oversight role but helped make deliveries during a week when they needed extra hands.
“People are excited when you walk in. They’re happy to be cared about and have a treat during the day,” she said. “This is hard, this is new and there’s no playbook for it. They’re just trying to get through day by day just like with anyone else. We’re there to bring some cheer.”
Polman says she finds the work fulfilling, although she hopes the need for it will diminish.
“We don’t have plans to stop this as long as we still have funds and donations. We really hope to do this until there is no longer a need,” she said.
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