Published June 2, 2020
Department of Psychiatry faculty have stepped up to provide help for health care workers in Western New York who are dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety related to COVID-19.
UBMD Psychiatry has launched the COVID-19 Emotional Support Task Force to arm health care workers with services and techniques to ease emotional distress brought on by the pandemic.
“Working in the current health care environment is extremely stressful, and not all of the information available from the media and on the internet is accurate or helpful,” says Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, professor and chair of psychiatry and president of UBMD Psychiatry. “We owe it to our colleagues to help anyone who is struggling with this situation.”
The task force evolved organically, with a great deal of input from and collaboration with UBMD psychiatrists, therapists and pastoral care leaders in Kaleida Health, according to Beth A. Smith, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and division chief of child and adolescent psychiatry; and Sourav Sengupta, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program. Both are clinicians at UBMD Psychiatry.
“Mental well-being is central to UBMD Psychiatry’s mission at all times, but especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith says. “We also know that in order to care for others, we need a strong emotional footing.”
The task force, which is coordinated by Smith and Sengupta, consists of UBMD psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and psychiatry residents and fellows, as well as therapists at the Oishei Children’s Hospital Children’s Psychiatry Clinic. Currently, more than 30 professionals are involved.
In March, members of the Department of Psychiatry began searching for ways to help the community’s COVID-19 response, says Smith, who is also chief of behavioral health at Kaleida Health.
“As we were learning of the challenging experiences our downstate colleagues were experiencing as they responded to the epidemic, our department came together to accelerate a plan to provide emotional support for our community’s health care workers in a relatively short period of time,” she says.
The Emotional Support Warmline (716-859-2010) is the linchpin of the task force’s initiative. Calls to the warmline are forwarded directly to the cell phone of one of a dozen faculty psychiatrists who have volunteered to field the calls.
According to Sengupta, the attending psychiatrist first takes the call and provides some in-the-moment emotional support, then either connects the caller to another team member who may be the best fit to help, or connects the caller to other community resources. Calls that cannot be immediately answered are returned promptly, and all calls are treated confidentially.
Others have also reached out to help in other ways.
“There is a wonderful group of clinicians, including psychiatry residents, core and volunteer faculty, who have contributed to our Mindful Moments, which are brief audio and video clips sent out regularly, focusing on learning wellness, mindfulness or self-care skills that we share with our regional health care worker community,” Sengupta says.
“The nature of this community health crisis has been to separate us from our friends, our family, our colleagues,” Sengupta says. “Especially in this situation, it feels critical to find any ways that we can to reach out to each other and lend a shoulder or an ear.”
“There is a sense that some things may be very different after we are through this,” he adds. “But if we can build on the foundation of mutual support and care that we have shown each other during this time, our community will be able to tackle all that lies ahead.”
The warmline, which went live on April 6, is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. The free service is available to all UBMD, Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and GPPC clinicians — including residents — during the COVID-19 crisis.