Robert Ellis Simon Foundation gives to support employee mental health

The Robert Ellis Simon Foundation has granted MLK Community Healthcare (MLKCH) a $100,000 grant in support of mental health and wellness services for staff.

The grant comes at a time of exceptional challenge for healthcare workers. From doctors and nurses, to environmental service workers, transporters, public safety officers, facilities engineers, and others—all have faced heightened feelings of anxiety, fatigue, and stress while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sometimes looking for help is difficult and people don’t know where to start.

Becca Jozsa
Employee Wellbeing Specialist MLKCH

“The mental health and wellness of hospital workers during the pandemic was our top priority, knowing that they have experienced trauma on a daily basis for more than a year,” says Edina Lekovic, Executive Director of the Robert Ellis Simon Foundation. “We felt it was crucial to bring them emotional support right in their workplace so that the site of their greatest stress was also the site of their healing. We are grateful that MLKCH is creating a model for others to learn from and emulate.”

MLKCH’s Director of Organizational Development, Jennifer Herrera, who spearheaded the effort, says that bringing employee mental health and well-being to the forefront of the conversations in the healthcare profession has long been an important goal.

“Especially for people who work in healthcare, there’s a whole component [of their work] that’s very isolating and lonely because you can’t really share the experience,” says Jennifer. “Taking care of our staff helps them take care of our patients.”

Healthcare workers often face stigmas against seeking help, says MLKCH Intensive Care Unit nurse Akiko Gordon. During periods of surging COVID-19 cases, she experienced severe anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness as the ICU was overwhelmed with patients.

“Work place traumas are common to healthcare professions, so people might think it’s just part of the job or you just need to ‘get over it,’” says Akiko. “But none of us were emotionally prepared for this crisis.”

The Robert Ellis Simon Foundation grant allowed MLKCH to hire a full-time Employee Wellbeing Specialist/Counselor, Becca Jozsa, a licensed clinical social worker, to meet the increasing needs of staff.

Becca Jozsa and staff member
Becca Jozsa speaks to a MLKCH staff member in the Healing Garden

She began her position in January. As soon as she arrived, says Becca, staff began reaching out. “Sometimes looking for help is difficult and people don’t know where to start. Knowing their employer is providing confidential [mental health] support on-site, knowing that it’s free and they’re able to get connected to outside resources—it’s a huge advantage and really helps.”

Struggling with her own mental health, Akiko quickly recognized that she needed to ask for help. She turned to Becca, who was able to provide counseling and set her up with a therapist. “Working with a therapist was a little intimidating at first, but I have gained a lot more mental clarity after talking to someone,” says Akiko.

Becca and the rest of the employee health team have also implemented new programs designed to support employee wellness. Monthly Support Rounds allow small, multi-disciplinary groups of staff across all departments to gather and air their concerns and fears.

Another popular program, Tea for the Soul, invites local elders and pastors from the community to come to MLKCH and serve tea, coffee, and snacks to staff. The program gives South LA community leaders a chance to express their gratitude to MLKCH staff while also allowing staff to receive blessing, counseling, and prayers in return.

Over time, MLKCH has expanded its offerings—with a meditation room and mindfulness classes, among others—and plans to continue increasing resources for staff.

Says Akiko, “I want all of my colleagues to know that seeking help is not a sign of weakness for anyone.”

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