Employee Health Q&A on Current Challenges
By Gary Evans
In this Q&A, Olga Hays, interim manager of employee well-being at Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, spoke to Hospital Employee Health about wellness programs and other challenges in employee health. Hays also is an ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach and a Six Sigma Yellow Belt. The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
HEH: What are some of the most challenging aspects of your job as an employee health professional?
Hays: The most challenging parts of my job are just certain needs that we can’t meet for many different reasons — financial reasons and policies, for example. That’s something we cannot control. A lot of challenges for our nurses and clinical staff with their health and well-being have to do with their very difficult work hours, being understaffed, varying shifts, and difficult patients. Unfortunately, those are some of the things that we cannot control like we do for our wellness program. We cannot necessarily mitigate those things. What we can do is kind of help them deal with those things a little better — just helping them with those resources that we have in place. We work with our leadership trying to change policies around shifts and staffing and things like that, but those changes take a long time, and it’s not easy. I guess the most challenging part of my work is that I don’t have a lot of control over those things. I don’t have control over staffing, I don’t have control over pay, I don’t have control over difficult patients. But those are the things that cause a lot of stress for our employees.
HEH: It seems in the aftermath of the pandemic, many employee health programs are focusing on wellness. Can you tell us about your wellness program at Sharp?
Hays: We have an in-house wellness or well-being program, and the goal is to create opportunities and resources for our team members. We want to help them thrive in order for them to be the best versions of themselves so they can provide quality care to our patients. We are trying to create a work environment that supports them in any way possible. We create opportunities and have programs in place to support emotional, mental, and physical health.
HEH: What are some examples of these programs?
Hays: We offer quite a few weight management programs. We try to help employees manage their weight, if that’s something they’re interested in, by partnering with WeightWatchers and offering subsidies for employee plans. We offer gym discounts for our employees as well as online fitness classes. We also host fitness classes on site at the hospital, including yoga, Pilates, and weight training. We want to meet employees where they are and create opportunities for them to ease access. We encourage physical checkups and create these preventive measures. We work very closely with our health plan to pay attention to our highest areas of utilization. Then, we tailor programs to reduce that in different areas, like hypertension, diabetes, or cancer.
We offer stress management programs, resilience-building, webinars, and workshops. We do it ourselves because we’re trained to do those things. We have to have the qualifications to be able to do the trainings or to teach things like emotional agility, burnout prevention, and stress reduction. We create content and deliver those on small and large scales. Workshops and webinars are for larger groups — the entire [staff] can attend a webinar.
Sometimes, individual departments call us and say their team is struggling with burnout. “Can you come to us and deliver content tailored just for our team?” We bring customized, tailored content to different departments and teams through what we call Wellness Direct. We come to them because wellness is not one size fits all. In healthcare settings, our challenges are quite unique due to varying schedules, demanding work — just the entire environment is so difficult.
HEH: What to you find to be the most rewarding aspects of employee health?
Hays: The most rewarding is just being able to help and create those programs that are either free or very low cost, and have those options for employees to choose from. If someone is struggling with sleep and feels a little too stressed, we have sleep health coaches who can help. If you are dealing with a conflict at work, we have an employee assistance program to help you deal with some of those challenges. The most rewarding thing is being able to offer those things to our employees and know that they are using them and they need them. [I appreciate] working for an organization that understands the importance of that.
In this Q&A, Olga Hays, interim manager of employee well-being at Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, spoke to Hospital Employee Health about wellness programs and other challenges in employee health.
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