ttuhscep.edu/wellness Includes Virtual Group Discussion Sessions, Wellness Videos and Podcasts
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso has created a collection of virtual wellness resources for community members and front-line health care professionals leading the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in El Paso.
COVID-19 cases in El Paso skyrocketed in November, and our U.S.-Mexico border community became one of the worst pandemic hotspots in the country as 2020 came to an end. Local hospitals reached capacity during this time, and nearly 1,400 outside health care professionals were sent in to help with the crisis.
Although cases and hospitalizations have dropped from the fall and winter peak, the daily number of new cases and hospitalizations in El Paso remain stubbornly high. To help those tirelessly battling the pandemic on the front line, TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry and El Paso mental health services provider Emergence Health Network have created a free series of wellness support videos, informative podcasts and regular virtual group discussions. These resources, and more, are available at ttuhscep.edu/wellness.
The resources were created to help front-line health care professionals, in order to combat mental fatigue they may be experiencing. Funding for the wellness project came from a portion of a $210,000 emergency grant from The Meadows Foundation, a Texas-based philanthropic organization established in 1948 by Algur H. and Virginia Meadows to benefit the people and state that had been so generous to them. The foundation has disbursed more than $1.25 billion to 3,600 organizations and agencies across Texas for arts and culture, civic and public affairs, education, health, and human services.
“The last year has been tough,” said Peter M. Miller, president and CEO of The Meadows Foundation. “We are starting to see positive signs of progress, but we still have a ways to go. The availability of these new resources is invaluable in keeping our mind health a priority. We appreciate TTUHSC El Paso’s commitment to taking care of its health care professionals and the community.”
Melanie Longhurst, Ph.D., M.Ed., a TTUHSC El Paso assistant professor and clinical psychologist with Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, said the Meadows Foundation grant has allowed them to provide live wellness sessions on a weekly basis for students, residents, fellows and employees at TTP El Paso and TTUHSC El Paso, as well as its hospital partners at University Medical Center of El Paso, El Paso Children’s Hospital and The Hospitals of Providence.
The one-hour virtual sessions offer wellness tips, meditation and an opportunity for workers to share their experiences and learn about coping mechanisms. Since the first meeting in December, nearly 400 health care professionals have attended the group sessions.
“I learned so much about improving my well-being during the group sessions,” said Liza Dominguez, M.D., a fourth-year resident. “I love the guided breathing mediations as well as other relaxation techniques learned. Dr. Longhurst makes the session fun, engaging and productive. These type of events promotes a healthy workplace, fosters positive interpersonal relationships and management methodologies which engage rather than scare or irritate workers.”
With the help of Emergence Health Network, the psychology team has been able to conduct more live sessions and is looking to expand the number of time slots to allow more health care professionals to attend.
“When you think of health care workers, there tends to be high burnout and not a lot of self-care due to the hours the people in the profession normally work,” Dr. Longhurst said. “It’s a different work environment, and we often observe an attitude that ‘this is just what you do and you keep pushing through.’ But it’s still important to take care of yourself. If we’re not well, how can we help other people be well?”
In addition to group sessions, the partnership launched the “This is Wellness with Emergence Health Network” podcast, now available for subscription to anyone on most platforms. The podcast debuted at the beginning of February and it will feature interviews with faculty, students and residents from TTUHSC El Paso and doctors from Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso.
Dr. Longhurst said one challenge has been getting front-line professionals to recognize that they need time for themselves. Once they’re able to take advantage of the resources, they realize their experiences are normal and it validates what they’re going through.
“If we feel like we’re alone in a challenging situation, especially now that many people are feeling isolated, it can be overwhelming,” Dr. Longhurst said. “Even if you’re at work, there’s a physical distance, everyone is in personal protective equipment, and it can feel distant even when standing next to someone. These group sessions, videos and podcasts are opportunities to come together and share. Even if participants don’t feel like sharing, they may hear something that normalizes their experiences and can make a difference in their lives.”
Over the last 10 months, front-line professionals have battled the COVID-19 surge, and as a result, they’re experiencing mental and physical exhaustion. The emotional toll of trying to keep their families safe and the loss they’re experiencing can be overwhelming. Private donations from organizations like The Meadows Foundation are an infusion of resources at a critical time. The grant also funded a wellness tent outside of UMC and TTP El Paso for health care professionals as well as expanded psychiatric consultations at the El Paso Convention Center, which had been set up as an alternate care site for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
A portion of the grant was also leveraged by The Meadows Foundation as a $50,000 match in support of community outreach efforts. The match goal was achieved within one month and is dedicated to grassroots efforts in underserved areas that have experienced disproportionate rates of COVID-19. Educational resource kits with face masks, hand sanitizer, testing and vaccine information will be distributed to the community by promotoras, bilingual health care advocates.