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WE CARE Focuses on Well-Being

UAB Nurse Wellness Manager Toni Beam, MSN, RN, NE-BC, has a deep understanding of the demands placed on nursing services staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an even deeper commitment to supporting their well-being throughout their careers. “As frontline healthcare providers, our nursing services staff felt the full weight of COVID. They watched a novel virus unfold while having to develop and implement new policies and procedures, and grapple with PPE shortages and the reprocessing of N95 masks,” she says. “It wore them down in many ways.”

As the former manager of a COVID unit, Beam has firsthand knowledge of the strain placed on staff by the pandemic. Now, thanks to a $2.3 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant secured by the UAB School of Nursing and spearheaded by Principal Investigator Patricia Patrician, PhD, RN, FAAN, UAB Nursing has the opportunity to develop a wellness program led by nurses, developed by nurses, and designed for nursing services staff. The Workplace Engagement for Compassionate Advocacy, Resilience and Empowerment (WE CARE) program aims to address mental health issues and improve well-being among UAB nursing services staff. “UAB has so much gratitude for the work they do, and it’s really exciting to create a wellness program to take care of them,” Beam says.

According to Associate Vice President for Nursing Quality and Clinical Excellence Jill Stewart, DNP, RN, CNOR, the need for this type of support program didn’t begin with COVID. “The pandemic exacerbated what we’ve needed for years,” she says. “Nursing staff have always maintained a high level of resilience. They don’t eat, don’t go to the bathroom, and they stay up all night.” Dr. Stewart analogizes the need for wellness to airline safety instructions to don your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. “Some people forget that nurses spend more time with patients than anyone else on the care team,” she says. “Our nursing staff have to be well in their minds and bodies in order to care for patients.”

Building the Foundation of WE CARE
Listening is the cornerstone of the WE CARE program. “For our June pulse survey, 1,200 UAB nursing services staff told us what they need, what their stressors are, and how close they are to burnout,” says Dr. Stewart. Dr. Patrician works closely with Director of Wellness Research Katherine Meese, PhD, to gather, synthesize, and analyze data from regular pulse surveys. “We use that information to guide the development of wellness programs and interventions that will allow them to thrive.”

The HRSA grant has enabled Beam and five nursing professional development specialists (NPDSs) to receive training in the Trauma Resource Institute’s Community Resilience Model. “Our nervous systems are impacted in times of crisis or high stress,” says Beam. “If we’re irritable, angry, or frustrated, we might not bring our best work to our patients.” Resilience training is designed to help individuals attune to and re-set their own nervous systems. “When we practice these skills, we will be able to maintain focus and high performance in times of crisis,” Beam says. The We Care team is currently teaching these skills to nurse leaders, nurse managers and NPDS staff, who in turn will train the front line nursing staff, providing an investment in and improvement of overall wellness on our teams.

Beam is looking forward to building out Opportunity to Achieve Staff Inspiration and Strength (OASIS) rooms. “These won’t be break rooms where nurses can chart,” says Beam. “They will be places where nursing staff can renew their minds, bodies, and spirits, and then bring back a better version of themselves to their work.” Beam anticipates providing massage chairs, sound machines, and low stimulus environments where they can shift their focus from their work to their well-being.

Collaboration Across the UAB Nursing Ecosystem and Beyond
Both Beam and Dr. Stewart emphasize the collaboration across the UAB Nursing ecosystem that enabled the creation of the WE CARE initiative. The UAB School of Nursing, UAB Medicine Nursing, UAB Medicine Office of Wellness, and the UAB School of Health Professions have all been instrumental in launching the WE CARE program. “UAB Medicine Nursing has had a strong partnership with the School of Nursing for years through the UAB Nursing Partnership, the formal umbrella under which all of our collaborations fall,” says Dr. Stewart. “It’s where the academic and the clinical meet for the good of nursing.” The collaboration between Chief Nursing Officer Terri L. Poe, DNP, RN, NE-BC, and then-Dean of the School of Nursing Doreen Harper, PhD, were foundational in securing the three-year HRSA grant. “During the third year of the grant, the School of Nursing and UAB Medicine Nursing will work together to share the WE CARE approach with nurses across the state of Alabama,” says Dr. Stewart.

Beam notes that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness for nursing services staff. “Wellness is a journey, and wellness looks different for each individual,” she says. “That’s why we’re committed to listening and troubleshooting. We want to make their work-life everything they want it to be.”