A MESH of Support

Published in Hopkins Medicine - Summer 2020

Several days a week, at 2:45 p.m., Ty Crowe leads a 15-minute meditation. He dims the lights and puts on soft music. Laptops click shut, phones are set aside. 

“We focus on our breathing, on our bodies,” says Crowe, director of spiritual care for The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “The other thing I emphasize is to remember to be grateful, even for small things.” 

The participants are the people in the Unified Incident Command Center who are leading Johns Hopkins Medicine’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Their daily respite is part of a robust and connected effort to support all Johns Hopkins Health System employees as they cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, which can add stress to employees who may be learning new roles, worrying about their own health or struggling with the requirements of social isolation, says Johns Hopkins psychologist George Everly. 

Enter MESH (Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Health), an initiative led by Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Office of Well-Being that weaves together several Johns Hopkins services that support mental and emotional health for employees. The groups have teamed with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, where more than 30 psychiatrists and psychologists have volunteered their time to provide timely mental health care to health system employees at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.  

“People have stepped up to the plate in an extraordinary way,” says Cynthia Rand, the Office of Well-Being’s interim chief wellness officer. “Those who are not on the front lines caring for patients want to support their colleagues who are, and there are efforts all over the institution to do that.”  

RISE (Resilience in Stressful Events), which delivers peer support to health care workers coping with stressful patient-related events, has 34 trained volunteers who provide peer support. They are getting five to 15 calls a day, says the group’s co-founder Albert Wu, professor of medicine. Before COVID-19, RISE received that many calls in a month. “We’ve also started rounding proactively on the units, including some that are less visible, like laundry, food service and security,” Wu says. From mid-March to mid-April, RISE served more than 600 people. 

Chaplain and spiritual care team members have also seen a quadrupling of staff encounters, particularly in units that have transitioned to caring for COVID-19 patients, says Paula Teague, senior director of spiritual care and chaplaincy. In one recent week, she says, her team met with more than 150 individuals and counseled more than 100 groups of three people or more across the health system.  

Being part of MESH gives her office even more power to help them, Teague says. 

“We really are a first filter for referrals,” she says. “We have lots of informal opportunities to say to someone, ‘That was really hard, what you just did. How are you doing?’ Usually, you can see the relief in a person’s face, and you know they feel better. But when we see a person who is not recovering like that, we can refer them to mySupport [an employee assistance program] for counseling. For the first time, I feel like spiritual care has been integrated with other services. It’s very satisfying to be part of a true partnership.”