Like many Americans, Fernow McClure found himself overweight and unhappy with his life -- until he got his mind opened to mindfulness.
“That’s certainly changed my life,” he says.
Occupational stress can be a killer for hospital workers like McClure. Studies show they suffer from higher rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide than other professions.
Hospitals in Central Indiana offer a wide range of wellness programs, from grief counseling to meditation retreats. At Eskenazi Health, nearly 500 workers and the entire special medicine department that McClure manages have been trained in a program called Self-Care.
Three years ago, Eskenazi hired trainers from the Center for Mind Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. to teach employees scientifically proven techniques for stress reduction, nutrition, and exercise. What sets it apart, though, is the emphasis on self care -- the ability to identify feelings in the moment and take steps to lower stress.
"Just learning how to meditate and focus on slowing my mind down -- not letting my thoughts race," McClure said.
The special medicine department helps patients with a wide variety of issues, including the administration of chemotherapy to all the hospital’s cancer patients. Adora Brice, the team leader over patient care in the unit, says to keep stress at bay, she has incorporated a quick exercise called “soft belly."
"Soft belly is all about breathing," she says. "It’s about not letting yourself stress up. Because when you stress, you tend to contract. Everything tends to become tense. Having a soft belly means not holding it in, not stressing, not becoming rigid.”
Brice says Self-Care isn’t just for work.
“I take this straight home and I say to my mate, 'Look. Calm yourself, relax and let this out. Just let it out. Just let it out your fingertips – let it out your toes and relax your belly whatever you do.' And he takes it to his job because he’s a co-owner of a company himself and he’s like look – you’ve got to take care of yourself,” she says.
How Health Care Systems Care For Workers
All Central Indiana hospitals offer a variety of wellness initiatives.
At St. Vincent’s, over 660 people have taken part in the Cultivating Reverence For Living mindfulness program through the Seton Cove Spirituality Center, a facility located in the woods just north of the 86th Street campus. Mandy Grella with the Associates Assistance Program says it’s a six-week, two-hour a week meditation program to help employees better manage stress. She says among other things, Ascension Health’s wellness services include prevention seminars to help workers deal with burn out, compassion fatigue and grief and loss.
IU Health has the Healthy Results program – which offers insurance premium reductions for those on the IU Health plan. Healthy Results program director Tammy Smith says wellness competitions are very popular with IU Health employees, like step and weight-loss challenges. Smith says employee health screenings have identified previously undiagnosed chronic diseases like diabetes. She says health coaches are available to work with individuals on a wide variety of personal goals.
Use of Community Health Network’s wellness programs has grown in the last couple of years, according to Ann Stephens Vawter, the personal wellness program manager. Vawter says the Bridges to Health program assists employees with management of asthma, diabetes, high cholesterol and weight, plus fitness training and health coaching. Vawter says employees can tailor wellness programs for things like weight loss, stress management or dealing with personal issues. She says they also have a popular online MyWellness portal with access to wellness workshops, resources and fitness tracking programs.
Singing Bowls and Lower Stress
In the special medicine unit at Eskenazi, medical assistant Robert Buford slips into his boss' office and picks up the singing Tibetan brass bowl that McClure keeps on his desk.
As Buford guides a smooth piece of wood along the top edge of the bowl, it starts to ring, the way a crystal glass rings when you sweep a wet finger around its rim.
“It makes you focus –actually trying to get the sound out. You just gently, gently rub it across the rim.”
The sound loudly reverberates.
“I love to do it every day,” Buford says, “and then I get back to my job.”
He says those few minutes is all it takes to clear his mind and prepare for the next patient. And he uses Self-Care techniques with them now, too.
"Take a deep breath and relax," Buford says to one man whose blood pressure reading was a little high. "Focus on happy thoughts for a minute."
The man takes a takes a few deep breaths as Buford inflates the blood pressure cuff again.
“And that worked,” Buford explained. The blood pressure was down, “133 over 88. Good deal!”
Adora Brice says the Self-Care training has had a lasting ripple effect.
“It’s very important. I mean, if you’re not taking care of yourself, how effective are you with taking care of others? And we’re here. This is what we do. We’re here to take care of others,” she says.