More than 30 members of management and staff at SalusCare, the largest nonprofit mental health and substance abuse treatment agency in Southwest Florida, are participating in a pilot program designed to decrease stress and burnout of health care workers. The weekly training from January through April aims to improve job satisfaction and ability to meet the area’s growing needs for mental and behavioral health services.
The pilot training uses evidence-based techniques developed through research since 1991 by the HeartMath Institute. It trains people to be able to pull out of fight or flight responses to shift from stress, dysregulation and incoherence to self-regulation, coherence and resilience, resulting in less anxiety, stress, fatigue and greater energy, health and fulfillment.
According to a 2022 study by the Centers for Disease Control, 46% of health workers reported feeling burned out often or very often, compared to 32% in 2018. In addition, Florida is facing workforce shortages across facilities that provide mental health services, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
“With a workforce shortage, it’s critical to take care of our employees so they can be effective and passionate, even as demands on them increase,” said Stacey Cook, CEO of SalusCare. “We believe we have a responsibility to help heal the workers who are charged with healing the community but are tired and burned out after COVID, Hurricane Ian and increased needs.”
Data collected at the start of the weekly program in January and at the end of the pilot in April will evaluate success. The program has been used nationwide for employees of the military, hospitals and first responders.
Cook connected with Jamie Linn Stuart, a Certified Resilience Advantage Trainer, about the pilot opportunity at a meeting of the Collaboratory’s Healing Healthcare Workers Coalition. Stuart is leading the SalusCare training for Resilience Advantage, a program that teaches practical day-to-day techniques to evaluate experiences to achieve coherence, a state of synchronization between the heart, brain, emotions and nervous system. Over time, these techniques help participants connect with courage, care, focus, gratitude, dignity and kindness in all aspects of their lives.
Participants in the pilot program use non-invasive Heart Rate Variability monitors that use biofeedback to help participants reach and measure “heart coherence,” to balance mind and emotions. The monitor measures naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate/heart rhythms to measure adaptation to stress and environmental demands.
After the pilot program, Cook and Stuart hope grants and philanthropic support will expand the training to other health care workers, first responders, teachers and others in the community.
“We hope ultimately to bring the program to area nonprofits in health care to help build resilience and heal extreme burnout,” Stuart said. “We hope to reignite passion, increase energy levels and diminish symptoms of fatigue, sleep disturbances and stress, allowing people to be more efficient and effective in every place in their lives.”
SalusCare is a Fort Myers-based, not-for-profit mental health and substance abuse service provider incorporated in 2013 after the merger of Lee Mental Health Center and Southwest Florida Addiction Services (SWFAS) to ultimately improve care for children and adults by utilizing one seamless system of care. “Salus” means health, prosperity and safety, reflecting the focus of the organization. SalusCare has six locations with more than 350 employees throughout Southwest Florida, bringing hope and recovery to nearly 16,000 adults and children each year. All substance abuse programs and most mental health services are accredited by CARF International, an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services. SalusCare is funded in part by the Florida Department and Children and Families, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, Lee County Board of County Commissioners and United Way of Lee, Hendry & Glades counties. For information, visit saluscareflorida.org or call 239-275-3222.