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Upstate cited for its commitment to medical staff wellbeing by leading medical group

Upstate Medical University is one of only 44 institutions in the country to be a recipient of the 2021 Joy In Medicine Health System Recognition Program. The accolade from the American Medical Association recognizes Upstate for its “demonstrated commitment to preserving the well-being of health care team members by engaging in proven efforts to combat work-related stress and burnout.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary stress on physicians and other health care professionals,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D. “While it is always important for health systems to focus on the well-being of care teams, the imperative is greater than ever as acute stress from combatting the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to higher rates of work overload, anxiety, and depression. The health systems we recognize today are true leaders in promoting an organizational response that makes a difference in the lives of the health care workforce.”

Upstate’s efforts at preserving the wellbeing of medical staff are led by Chief Wellness Officer (CWO) Leslie Kohman, MD, FACS, who is also a SUNY Distinguished Professor of Surgery.

The post of CWO was created, in part, out of concern for wellness among Upstate’s staff. One of the first tasks of the CWO was to create a wellbeing task force that would be able to advise the CWO on issues and develop wellbeing goals for the campus.

Some of the early gains made by the group were the creation of Peer Supporters to help staff deal with adverse clinical events.  Upstate is now a member of a regional 5-hospital peer support network, The Clinician Peer Support Program of Central New York, CPSP-CNY, funded by a grant from the New York Health Foundation. As part of this program, 85 clinical staff have been trained in peer support. The purpose of this program is to develop a cadre of trained peer supporters who are available to all staff, with a special emphasis on providing peer support to those dealing with recent adverse events. The program also affords anonymity by matching people in need of support with a peer at another institution where they are not well known.

The Wellbeing Task Force also made the Mayo Wellbeing Index available to anyone on campus. The index is an anonymous interactive self-assessment tool that measures 6 dimensions of distress and wellbeing among those working in health care. Depending on your score, the index will suggest various local and national resources to improve your wellbeing.

Another wellness element that was identified by the task force and developed was the Clinical Collaboration Center, or CUBE, a dedicated space where providers can meet and interact for collaboration, support, relaxation and a sense of community.

Kohman said the stressors for healthcare professionals are significant and these important advances can help lessen the stress and anxiety many feel. 

“I am grateful for all the support Upstate has provided to this important issue of wellbeing,” Kohman said. “Positive wellbeing is no longer a personal issue, it’s very much an institutional one, and we have had a great start here at Upstate for providing support to our staff. Practitioner wellbeing improves the quality of patient care, efficiency of practice and patient satisfaction. This recognition from the AMA is significant and we look forward to making further progress and supporting more wellbeing initiatives in the coming year.”

A national study examining the experiences of physicians and other health care workers who worked in health care systems during the COVID-19 pandemic found that 38% self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression, while 43% suffered from work overload and 49% had burnout.

Candidates for the Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program were evaluated according to their documented efforts to reduce work-related burnout through system-level drivers. Scoring criteria was based on demonstrated competencies in commitment, assessment, leadership, efficiency of practice.