When Mount Sinai Hospital’s poet-in-residence makes her rounds, she delivers the healing power of words. “Employees were skeptical at first, but now they welcome her visits,” says Melissa Barton, the hospital’s director of occupational health, wellness and safety. “It’s a few minutes out of their day to express thoughts or feelings in a creative, reflective way, which has been proven to help build personal resilience to stress.”

The poet-in-residence, funded by the Ontario Arts Council, is one of several programs that promote psychological health and safety, including: the Be an Ally anti-discrimination campaign to promote appropriate interactions with those who have a mental illness; compassion-fatigue support for healthcare staff; the “stress vaccine” online training tool to help navigate stressful situations in a hospital setting; and the psychological safety-risk index, which assesses the work environments of departments and, where risks are identified, assigns an expert committee to work with staff to develop and implement strategies.

Over the past decade, wellness at Mount Sinai has evolved “from an events-based program to a recognized leading practice with strategic links to our vision, mission and values,” says Barton. “A healthy workplace is a marriage of culture, resources and system supports.”

The hospital employs a full-time healthy workplace program co-ordinator who works with the emotional well-being committee and the physical well-being committee. Both are chaired by senior leaders and draw upon the expertise of in-house clinical staff. The co-ordinator also works with the ambassador committee, composed of staff across multiple departments to champion, as well as provide feedback on, programs.

The employer formally evaluates its offerings by surveying program participants, analyzing claims data (the share of claims for high-blood-pressure medications, for example, has decreased) and conducting engagement surveys, which score significantly higher than Ontario hospital benchmarks. Annual absenteeism has also declined to 7.8 from 9.3 days, compared to the industry average of 13.3 days.

On the physical side of well-being, programs include a subsidized on-site fitness centre, an annual health challenge and yoga classes. “Over the next year, we plan to enhance our physical well-being program in a fashion similar to what we’re doing in emotional well-being,” says Barton. “It’s all about supporting our healthcare workers so they can deliver the best patient care possible.”

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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