UBMD Psychiatry provides emotional support to frontline health care workers

Photo of Dr. Sourav Sengupta standing in an office.

Published April 30, 2020

Clinicians create free counseling “warmline” for stressed providers during COVID-19 crisis

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“Especially in this situation, it feels critical to find any ways that we can to reach out to each other and lend a shoulder or an ear. ”
Training Director for Child Psychiatry and Assistant Professor

Overworked health care providers around the world are experiencing unprecedented levels of emotional and physical burnout and fear for their personal safety and the well-being of their loved ones as they care for patients with the novel coronavirus.

But health care workers in Western New York have a new tool to help them cope with unsettling levels of stress and anxiety, thanks to UBMD Psychiatry.

Launching a COVID-19 Emotional Support Task Force

The practice has launched a COVID-19 Emotional Support Task Force to support their colleagues throughout the UBMD primary and specialty care practices, Kaleida Health, ECMC, General Physician PC and Optimum Physician Alliance practices. The task force’s aim is to arm health care workers with services and techniques to ease emotional distress brought on by the pandemic.

“Working in the current health care environment is extremely stressful, and not all of the information available from the media and on the internet is accurate or helpful,” said Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, president of UBMD Psychiatry and professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “We owe it to our colleagues to help anyone who is struggling with this situation.”

The task force evolved organically, with a great deal of input from, and collaboration with, UBMD psychiatrists, therapists and pastoral care leaders in Kaleida Health, according to Beth Smith, MD, executive vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry, and Sourav Sengupta, MD, training director for child psychiatry. Both are clinicians at UBMD Psychiatry.

Photo of Beth Smith, MD.

“Mental well-being is central to UBMD  Psychiatry’s mission at all times, but especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith said. “We also know that in order to care for others, we need a strong emotional footing.”

The task force, which is coordinated by Sengupta, consists of UBMD and UB psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatry residents and fellows, as well as therapists at the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital Children’s Psychiatry Clinic. Currently, more than 30 professionals are involved.

In March, members of the psychiatry department began searching for ways to help the community’s COVID-19 response, said Smith, who is also an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, division chief for child and adolescent psychiatry, in the Jacobs School and chief of behavioral health at Kaleida Health.

“As we were learning of the challenging experiences our downstate colleagues were experiencing as they responded to the epidemic, our department came together to accelerate a plan to provide emotional support for our community's health care workers in a relatively short period of time,” she said.

Support line for healthcare workers

The Emotional Support Warmline is the linchpin of the task force’s initiative. Calls to the warmline are forwarded directly to the cell phone of one of a dozen faculty psychiatrists who have volunteered to field the calls. The attending psychiatrist triages the call, provides some in-the-moment emotional support, and then either connects the caller to another team member who may be the best fit to help, or informs the caller about other community resources, Sengupta said. Calls that cannot be immediately answered are returned promptly, and all calls will be treated confidentially.

“The nature of this community health crisis has been to separate us from our friends, our family, our colleagues,” Sengupta said. “Especially in this situation, it feels critical to find any ways that we can to reach out to each other and lend a shoulder or an ear.

“There is a sense that some things may be very different after we are through this,” he added. “But if we can build on the foundation of mutual support and care that we have shown each other during this time, our community will be able to tackle all that lies ahead.”      

The warmline, which went live on April 6, is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. The free service is available to all staff and clinicians, including residents and fellows, during the COVID-19 crisis.

UBMD Psychiatry remains available to new and existing patients during this time through UBMD CareConnect, our telemedicine service. Visit UBMD Psychiatry’s CareConnect page for more information.

See below for more information about the members involved in this effort.

The Taskforce Team

Smith, Dubovsky and Peter Winkelstein, MD, helped the group navigate the administrative challenges involved in getting the coalition operational. Winkelstein is executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Informatics, chief medical informatics officer for UBMD and Kaleida Health, and clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Jacobs School.

Laura Benedict, PhD, manager of the Children's Psychiatry Clinic at Oishei and clinical professor of psychiatry at the Jacobs School, helped organize therapists from the clinic, all of whom volunteered to provide supportive therapy to affected health care workers.

David Kaye, MD, member of UBMD Psychiatry and vice chair for academic affairs in the Department of Psychiatry, helped to connect the different groups planning the project and organized therapists from  throughout the community who wanted to support the region's health care workers.

Rev. Tom Baldwin, Spiritual Care Coordinator at Oishei, serves as liaison to pastoral care services in the hospitals and coordinates spiritual support messages.

Other members of the task force who are clinicians with UBMD Psychiatry and faculty in the UB Department of Psychiatry include Michael Adragna, MD; Tori Brooks, MD; Paula Del Regno, MD; Jane Elberg, MD; David Kaye, MD; Dori Marshall, MD; Peter Martin, MD; Annemarie Mikowski, MD, and Bruce Miller, MD. The Trainee Team consists of Charles Camp, MD, Jaime Mash, and Elizabeth Lucaj, UB psychiatry residents and Kiran Khalid, MD, Amber Parden, MD, Nida Khawaja, MD Byung Kwak, MD, and Salman Salaria, MD, all UB child psychiatry fellows.

Additionally, to help the regional healthcare community, several members have created multiple “Mindful Moments” videos aimed at healthcare workers that provide easy-to-digest wellness, mindfulness and self-care tips. Smith and Sengupta, along with Kristen Cercone, PhD, Jaime Mash, MD, Chelsey McCabe, PhD and Chris Fitzgerald, PhD, have created several of these videos so far.