The high-stakes environment of COVID-19 has created unprecedented mental health challenges for nurses and caregivers around the world. A veteran in psychiatric nursing, Dr. Amy Rushton, vice president of behavioral health services for HCA Healthcare, details the unique stressors that the pandemic presents. Dr. Rushton also sheds light on how HCA Healthcare is prioritizing and destigmatizing colleague mental health needs through new initiatives like Nurse Care…

It was completely unforeseen that 2020 – the “Year of the Nurse” – would also be the year of a global pandemic. The year that marks what would have been Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday is also the year that modern day nurses appear front and center in the race to protect and care for COVID-19 patients and the public at large.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen HCA Healthcare’s 98,000 nurses step up against insurmountable odds to innovate and save lives. I’ve never been more proud to be a nurse and a part of our organization.

Amy Rushton, DNP, APRN, vice president of behavioral health services at HCA Healthcare

COVID-19 has touched every part of society. It’s human. It’s physical. It’s mental. And, it’s imperative that caregivers take care of themselves in order to care for others during this time.

A paper published in March in JAMA Network Open surveyed more than 1,200 nurses and healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic in China. The article found that there were specific risk factors for negative mental health outcomes including being a frontline caregiver, being female and being a nurse.

The paper also notes, “a considerable proportion of health care workers reported experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress.” Globally, nurses in COVID-populated areas of hospitals are exposed to stressful situations such as isolation from loved ones, worrying that causes lack of sleep and the feeling of sadness that comes from patients passing away.

In short, stress levels are having an effect on nurses’ mental health like we have never seen before. Examples of things we’re hearing from the front line include:

“I’ve lost a patient, and I’m having a hard time dealing with my feelings.”

“I’m a new nurse, and I didn’t realize that it would be so difficult.”

“Between work and home, I’m overwhelmed.”

These feelings are completely normal in an environment like COVID-19; we expect these feelings in a crisis. They make us human.

“We want nurses at HCA Healthcare to know that they do not have face these challenges alone.”

Across our organization, our behavioral health, human resources and leadership teams are working hard to make mental health a priority and fight stigma surrounding behavioral health issues.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we devised a convenient Caregiver and Colleague Wellness page, available on our organization’s intranet, where colleagues can access resources and tools for mental well-being, newsletters, videos, upcoming events and more. Colleagues are also eligible for the HCA Healthcare Healthy Living Program featuring resources and tools for mental well-being, family and household (including resources for center-based and in-home child care), finances, overall health, diversity and inclusion and time away from work. Some of these resources include:

  • Nurse Care: a unique, free and confidential mental health program for the needs of HCA Healthcare hospital-based nurses. The resource is available 24/7 to help them manage anxiety, balance their work and life responsibilities, practice self-care and handle common nursing related issues. Nurse Care is available by calling (800) 480-1234.
  • PsychHub: a free COVID-19 mental health resource hub, created by a national mental health coalition to meet the mental health needs of individuals during this pandemic. The online collection includes visual resources for maintaining your well-being and coping with mental health concerns during a global pandemic.
  • Beacon Health Wellbeing Program: a program where colleagues can schedule confidential in-person, phone or video call sessions with a licensed counselor. Colleagues receive five no-cost sessions per issue for each qualifying family member. Learn more by calling (800) 434-5100.
  • Bright Horizons Care Advantage: free and unlimited access to programs to support colleagues looking for a babysitter, nanny, support for a special needs child, elder care provider, dog walker or housekeeper.
  • Doctor on Demand: a telemedicine app currently free for all colleagues and their dependents that connects you with board-certified physicians via video on a smartphone, tablet or computer. In addition to colds, sinus infections and skin and eye conditions, physicians can also provide care for anxiety, depression and stress.
  • American Nurses Association COVID-19 Resource Center: free access to tools that support the mental health and resilience of nurses by the American Nurses Foundation.

In addition to the programs listed above, HCA Healthcare has additional resources coming soon to support mental and emotional health.

The HCA Healthcare Hope Fund also offers cash grants to help our colleagues during times of crisis. Colleagues can submit an application for monetary support to assist with needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic at HCAHopeFund.com or by phone at (877) 857-HOPE.

If you or someone you know is feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, we urge you to contact one of the below crisis resources for help:
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” TO 741-741
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat (Online live messaging): https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
Dr. Amy Rushton is vice president of behavioral health services for HCA Healthcare. She has been a psych nurse for more than 25 years.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, comprising 186 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom.