Looking back over the past three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, one image resonates in my memory: The salute banged out on pots and pans that ordinary Canadians gave to our health care heroes every evening at dusk. At a time when the term “heroes” is widely overused, these people were the real deal. They risked everything to provide care to thousands stricken with an entirely new virus about which we initially knew little other than its rampant spread and potential lethality.
With the burden placed on health care workers in recent years, it should be no surprise that the toll on mental and physical health has been massive. Moreover, while strains on the health care system were not new, the pandemic exacerbated the situation. So much so that many have left the profession to preserve their mental well-being. The negative impacts affect all Canadians as we struggle to repair and reclaim what most of us have taken for granted for generations: universal access to quality health care.
At Redwood, we’ve produced and delivered health care communications and training for many years. So, you can imagine our excitement to be recently working with the Canadian Mental Health Association, (CMHA) Ontario Division to develop training to help health care workers across Ontario manage workplace stresses and strengthen mental well-being.
Let me begin by sharing some background: CMHA Ontario has been delivering Mental Health Works (MHW), a workplace mental health program, for almost 20 years in corporate settings. However, the negative impact of the pandemic on the health care workforce became increasingly more apparent and the need for a health care-specific curriculum became clear to CMHA Ontario and its partner organizations.
Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario, moved quickly to hire a registered nurse who researched, engaged health care sector stakeholders, and designed a program based on the foundation of Mental Health Works. Your Health Space (YHS) is a workplace program dedicated to helping health care workers identify and address workplace stresses and work together to improve organizational well-being. With the health care sector in crisis mode, the program attracted funding, partners and participating organizations, all of whom recognized the need for urgent action.
From the beginning, a hybrid learning format was recognized as a way to meet the work constraints of health care workers. Different schedules, client care responsibilities, and a wide range of unique needs were significant limitations of the MHW modes of delivery. eLearning, with its natural flexibility, became an essential program component.
The Your Health Space program also includes live workplace workshops conducted by YHS trainers, live Zoom session workshops, as well as a flipped classroom model – where participants can review the e-learning modules and have more focused sessions to apply the training and elicit participant discussion. Trainers are themselves health care workers and were strategically hired so that the program team has regional representation across the province of Ontario. In these and many other ways, the program meets the overarching objective of offering the flexibility required to accommodate the needs of the health care audience.
Based on the Mental Health Works curriculum, the current program has been modified to address the needs of health care professionals working in many health care environments.
Naturally, with a program of this nature, significant back-and-forth communication was required to understand and address the priorities and concerns of learners. Participant organizations were forthcoming in providing invaluable input that enhanced the entire program. One example was the development of multiple virtual scenarios focused on workplace mental health in which learners could easily see themselves. These scenarios help learners recognize situations that trigger mental stress and impart the benefits of choosing healthier coping strategies.
I asked Lee Downs, Redwood’s lead instructional designer, to share her insights into how the training was developed to meet the unique needs of health care workers:
“We wanted the modules to be brief, while still containing enough information for participants to get a good understanding of the topic and apply it to their own experiences. We also created a four-step approach to use when addressing mental health challenges in the workplace: recognize-focus-act-reflect.”
Your Health Space provides training in several areas of psychological health and safety in health care settings via free live workshops, online sessions, and self-directed modules. The programming is delivered through three distinct spaces designed for health care workers, leaders, and support staff working in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and home and community care settings. A fourth space for connection invites staff members across an entire organization to learn together.
The self-directed part of the program consists of the following modules:
- Introduction to Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace
An overview of the 15 psychosocial factors that affect well-being in health care workplaces and an introduction to the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
- Self-Care: Wellness and Flourishing
An overview of the dimensions of wellness, and an introduction to the Dual Continuum Model of Mental Health & Mental Illness to understand well-being and its relationship to the workplace.
- Self-Care: Mindfulness
An overview of the components of mindfulness with practical opportunities to examine how mindfulness can be personalized for use at work and elsewhere.
- Occupational Stress
Learners examine the unique stressors experienced by health care workers, the effect of stress on well-being and performance, and practical strategies for addressing workplace stress.
- Traumatic Stress
Learners examine how traumatic stress can occur and explore ways for individuals to protect themselves and their colleagues in the workplace.
- Compassion Fatigue
An overview of how compassion fatigue manifests in the caring professions and how individuals can address it in the workplace.
- Moral Injury
An introduction to the concept of moral challenge in health care, the risk of moral injury, and strategies to approach and address this unique stressor.
Each of the self-directed modules takes approximately 30-45 minutes to complete and includes background material to help learners understand the nature of the challenges they may face in the health care workplace, the potential impact of those stressors, and various interactive elements designed to highlight the benefits of making more positive choices.
Additionally, the inaugural Your Health Space podcast episode: ‘Leading with Vulnerability – The Journey to a Psychologically Healthy Workplace,’ is now available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. It was officially released today by CMHA Ontario as part of Bell Let’s Talk. You can listen to the podcast via this link: https://linktr.ee/yourhealthspace
So how have health care workers responded to the program? Ashley Kim, Program Manager, Your Health Space, shared her thoughts on the impact of the program since its release:
“Our program evaluation has so far shown that across all Spaces of the program (leaders, health care workers, support staff), participants average above 4 on a 5-point Likert scale for measures of client satisfaction. This is the inaugural year of a large novel program, and gathering baseline data on this important workforce as we build up awareness of workplace mental health in the health care sector has been such an incredible journey. I’m incredibly proud of the amount of care and intention that has gone into every aspect of this program, and continues to inform its continuous improvement.”
At Redwood, we love making learning engaging and accessible to many audiences. So having the opportunity to play a part in developing training to lessen the mental burden for our remarkable health care workers was about as good as it gets!
For more information and to access the program, follow this link: https://yourhealthspace.ca/