Combating burnout: Avera’s LIGHT program helping heath care providers

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In a busy hospital, Megan Bartel is focused on taking care of the people who are responsible for providing care. 

On Wednesday morning, that meant Bartel hit the hospital floors while pushing the “snack wagon” and “swag wagon.” The Avera LIGHT Program Manager calls the process “rounding.” This new practice, providing on-site snacks, support and other items to frontline health care workers may not get time to get for themselves, has been the new standard since the COVID-19 pandemic started hitting the hardest in Fall 2020.  

“We really try to bring items that could help for people who might not be able to sneak away for lunch,” Bartel told KELOLAND News. “To provide a little bit of comfort while you’re working.” 

Bartel said it’s usually the same people “rounding” and she’s often joined by Avera Vice President of Mission Steve Tappe, Dr. Ashley VanDyke and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Post.

“We really try to have the same people so that if someone is having a hard time, the next time we round, we can check in on them,” Bartel said. “We’re getting to know people and it’s been a great way to provide support and connect with people.” 

The group tries to make stops at as many units as possible, at least once a week during the day, during a night shift and weekend shift.  

“We try to look at the areas of who is getting hit hard as far as numbers go for units,” Bartle said. “We need to be there in the trenches with our staff.”

Everything from nostalgic candy to protein bars and beef jerky can be found on the “snack wagon” while lotion, sanitizer, headbands, heat patches or “anything that can help you in the moment” can be found on the “swag wagon.”

“It’s something that’s really well received,” Bartel said. “I think people appreciate that we are seeing people face-to-face and saying ‘Hey, we see you, we hear you and we’re here for you.’”   

“Rounding” is just the latest program developed from Avera’s LIGHT program, which started in 2015. It stands for Learn, Innovate, Grow, Heal and Thrive and the focus is solely on the well-being of physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.  

“We really switched our focus from being a burnout treatment program to more of burnout prevention or wellness prevention, getting more upstream, more proactive in the approach,” said VanDyke, who is a family medicine physician with Avera. 

“Burnout is a thing, burnout is a problem with healthcare providers, it is such a high-risk profession,” VanDyke said.  

Burnout and becoming overwhelmed or exhausted from work is nothing new in the healthcare profession, Bartel said. She said Avera’s strategy has been looking for ways to provide support, education and resources to prevent people from becoming burned out. 

“We’re hoping with more visibility and awareness of the LIGHT program, people can reach out sooner,” Bartel said. “Health care workers can put themselves last when it comes to taking care of themselves. That’s an easy thing to let happen, but the more you take care of yourself, the greater you’re going to be able to take care of your patients, your colleagues and your families.”  

Stress in health care at an all-time high 

Avera’s LIGHT program was put into place well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but added stress from the extra patients has taken a toll. Bartel said she believes stress for health care workers has reached an all-time high.  

“It’s tough to escape it too,” Bartel said. “You see it at work and then you and you may open your phone to social media or the news and it’s all over it. Sometimes it’s tough to find that escape.” 

And that’s where the workers inside the LIGHT program are there to help. One positive from the pandemic is how it’s allowed Bartel to promote the benefits of the program and reach more healthcare workers.  

“The pandemic has allowed us to become more visible to our organization,” Bartel said. “People can see who they’re going to be talking to.” 

In her unique position, Bartel said seeing frontline healthcare workers eye-to-eye during the pandemic opened her own eyes about the serious nature of the pandemic. She said she always took COVID-19 seriously, but she has a new level of appreciation for the sacrifices made by workers on the frontline. 

“They continue to show up,” Bartel said. “They are there and they’re taking phenomenal care of these patients.”

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