Behind the Scenes on the Front Lines: Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
The past year has been mentally exhausting for everyone, let alone people who already struggle with mental health issues – but for patients, colleagues and community members, the Psychiatry and Behavioral Health staff stepped up to the plate.
Even when the plate was miles from those they sought to help.
“It was challenging to counsel people through an experience we were dealing with ourselves,” said Lanae Ampersand, program manager, Behavioral Health, Hershey Medical Center. “Learning telehealth was another challenge… It’s hard to console someone when they’re crying – hand them a tissue – when they’re on video. It’s a powerless feeling to help someone who is suicidal when they’re miles away.”
While continuing to provide crisis response, patient evaluation, therapy, medical management and more from their various clinical settings and remotely, Psychiatry and Behavioral Health staff united to meet a surge in patient demand and support for front-line staff, all while providing reassurance and resources to the community at large.
What are the ways your department has contributed during COVID that most Penn State Health employees aren’t aware of?
Our department joined with the Offices of Professional Mental Health and Pastoral Care Services to rapidly identify, develop and coordinate mental health and emotional support programs and make them accessible to staff members within our organization… It was very uplifting to see that 30 psychiatric and behavioral health providers participated as on-call volunteers in a hotline support program. ~ Dr. Sanjay Yadav, psychiatrist, Hershey Medical Center
I, along with our social worker, provided Zoom support sessions to several nursing homes in the community to offer their staff emotional support and make them aware of resources that were available to them. ~ Lanae Ampersand, Hershey Medical Center
What has been the biggest challenge your department faced during COVID?
Our staff experienced an increase in anxiety and feelings of isolation…as well as disruptions of routines in their personal and professional lives. For a period of time, mental health care access was hugely reduced, impacting vulnerable groups of our community the most. ~ Dr. Sanjay Yadav, Hershey Medical Center
Our patients are rarely in their rooms – for their mental health they’re encouraged to be out in the lounges socializing and to attend groups. Doing this while social distancing is hard! ~ Kristy Keegan Leitz, mental health worker, Holy Spirit Medical Center
What qualities best describe your co-workers?
They were lighthouses in the fog guiding others to safety. ~ Lanae Ampersand, Hershey Medical Center
I’m inspired by seeing how our colleagues have come through as a team to support each other… department team members quickly developed and implemented workflow changes on the clinical, research and education units, provided coverage for the staff absences during quarantine and isolation, and reached out and supported each other when department members became sick or suffered losses. ~ Dr. Sanjay Yadav, Hershey Medical Center
What about your department are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the fact that despite everything thrown at us, I think our unit does a great job and provides the best care to our patients in these chaotic times. ~ Kristy Keegan Leitz, Holy Spirit Medical Center
What was the biggest thing that changed for you during the pandemic?
I remember a provider shared about a discussion on fears people worldwide had about catching COVID through touching things, being in large crowds, etc., and the patient who carries a diagnosis of anxiety said, “Welcome to my world.” I feel that I have the opportunity to be empathic on a deeper level. ~ Lanae Ampersand, Hershey Medical Center
I’ve learned a lot about myself, about my networks and community, and about our capacity to adapt as a group. It’s also made me realize how quickly life can change. I’ve been able to reach out to many, to be grateful and to appreciate others in my life. ~ Dr. Sanjay Yadav, Hershey Medical Center
What is one fact about your department that you wish everyone at Penn State Health knew?
We’re small but mighty! Although we aren’t as big a site as many perceive us to be, the impact that we make is valuable and powerful. ~ Lanae Ampersand, Hershey Medical Center
There are times when even though our staffing seems to be enough on paper, more is needed because of things happening on the unit… I hope everyone is understanding of the times we’re unable to help other departments as much as we would like because of a situation at that moment. ~ Kristy Keegan Leitz, Holy Spirit Medical Center
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