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Health Care Heroes: Behavioral health

June 10, 2021


Top Left to Right: Hanni Snyder, R.N. and Amy Eichelberger, LPN
Bottom Left to Right: Holly Gilmore and Amber Stower, R.N.

Top Left to Right: Hanni Snyder, R.N. and Amy Eichelberger, LPN Bottom Left to Right: Holly Gilmore and Amber Stower, R.N.

Our heroes in behavioral health, were recently recognized by Central Penn Business Journal for 2021. The awards honor individuals across the region who excel at their jobs and go the extra mile for the families they serve. 

WellSpan representatives were honored in a virtual ceremony and in several categories:

1. “Mental Health Caregiver Hero”

WellSpan Philhaven behavioral health team leads: Emotional support is just a phone call, email or an online resource away

Behavioral health team leads have been available at our hospitals to provide team members with the confidential support they need when faced with a crisis or a traumatic event. 

Team leads coordinate the support for employees, whether it’s face to face counseling, group debriefings or a Zoom chat. In addition, they also provide support for families who have lost a child or other family member.

When the pandemic began, the process for emotional support became more formalized, as team members faced unprecedented challenges and added stress. 

“We started immediately to identify ways that we could engage our colleagues,” said Kathleen Jansen, Psy.D., psychology section chief and team lead at WellSpan York Hospital. “We stood up call lines, text chat features and group meetings to support staff.” 

But as many staff members became too busy to reach out for support, that needed support came to them. Leads were identified in each entity and team leads began rounding with staff and attending huddles. Additional team members were also deployed to interact with staff on as many shifts as possible, Jansen added.

“This process has allowed us to reach out to those who would have never reached out on their own,” said Brenda Startoni, manager, Crisis Intervention and team lead at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital. “We don’t keep notes. We don’t open a chart in EPIC. There is no stigma in sitting and talking to us. We are safe. If a person needs additional services, we help facilitate that through Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other appropriate services.”

I have a passion for supporting our staff,” Startoni said. “The work we do is difficult, and we cannot help but be affected by it.”

Challenging times during the pandemic

It’s ok not to be ok. 

“One of the most valuable things that we learned was that this is a much-needed resource and that the pandemic many times brought to light preexisting issues, “she explained. “As we gained trust and credibility, the staff came to us for issues that were not directly related to the pandemic.

This included challenges with childcare, remote learning, financial stress and increased alcohol consumption.

“We also had employees who couldn't access needed care (dental, vision, medical) because of their schedules, or providers turned them away because of their COVID exposure risk from working in a hospital setting,” Jansen said.

Making a difference

Team leads listen, validate their team members’ work and give direction. 

“The staff on the COVID-19 floors and ICU’s felt isolated and were very aware that people were afraid to be around them” Startoni said. “When we offered to meet with them in person, it showed that we valued them and were not afraid to sit with them in their pain.” 

And a little gratitude goes a long away.

For several months, Team Leads rounded on day and night shifts through the COVID-19 and ICU floors, thanking the staff for their work. 

“Helping my colleagues recognize the importance of caring for themselves so they can better care for others, and helping them to make individualized, actionable plans to do that, has been incredibly rewarding,” Jansen said.

2. “Health Care Specialties Hero”

Holly Gilmore, clinical director for WellSpan Philhaven’s intensive behavioral health services’ applied behavior analysis

Your work here at WellSpan:

“I support the staff who are working in the field providing behavioral support to children and adolescents diagnosed with autism. Staff in our program focus on developing skills that will allow these individuals to become more and more independent, improving not only their quality of life but that of their family as well.

Helping individuals with disabilities:

“One aspect to my work that I have loved over the past eight years is being part of our summer therapeutic activities program (STAP). This is a summer camp, where kids come to work on improving their ability to socialize with peers. STAP has experienced so many successes, from increasing staff engagement through their love of the program, as well as kids being able to identify true friends at the end of the program. It’s been a huge success all around.”

Facing challenges this past year:

“Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted as saying ‘Change is the only constant in life.’ Anyone who works in the field that I do knows this all too well. Regulations change, treatment goals change, staff and leadership changes. Human behaviors change, which is actually our goal, so we come to expect change. The difficulty with this past year is that we had to navigate changes to work roles, specifically staff being deployed into new, unfamiliar roles, almost immediately when COVID-19 hit. Leading remotely was the greatest challenge for me, learning to effectively support and lead staff without being physically with them.” 

Most rewarding days at work:

“When I get a thank you from one of my staff and knowing I was able to support or lighten a burden for one of them, that to me is a good day at work.” 

Advice for others who want to work in a similar field:

“Know where your passion lies, know what motivates you, and find ways to find it and see it in your work every day. That’s what will get you through the tougher days.”

3. “Health Professional Hero”

Amber Stower, R.N., outpatient psychiatric nurse

Your work at WellSpan:

“I have been a registered nurse for 12 years.  My career here has been split between outpatient nephrology/dialysis and both inpatient and outpatient psychiatry. I assist with care of outpatient behavioral health/psychiatry patients from medication issues to administering antipsychotic injections or getting a patient to Crisis/ER and anything in between.  My role here is so multifaceted, that I wear the nurse hat, social worker hat and case manager hat, all while taking care of and advocating for our patients.  The role of a nurse is so much more complex than simply taking care of someone and it doesn't matter the field or specialty we are in.”

Facing challenges this past year:

“Redeployment during Covid-19 was the most challenging.  I know this was very difficult for everyone redeployed during this time. I am grateful to have a supportive family through it and to have still had my job while some were losing theirs.”

Most rewarding days at work:

“When a patient is struggling mentally and emotionally so much so that it is physically hurting them, and they improve and get better! Their entire quality of life has changed as a result of our collaboration, teamwork and trust between the patient and me and their providers.  

“This is often tough to watch because psychiatric medications and treatment take time to work and don't work right away. It's amazing to see how people come back from this and how their life events have shaped them. This is the greatest, most rewarding part.”

Advice for others who want to work in a similar field:

"Be the one who nurtures and builds.  Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, one who looks for the best in people.  ‘Leave people better than you found them,’ a quote from Marvin J. Ashton.  

We often see people at their sickest and weakest moments. They remember that healthcare professional who was genuine and sincere with them as they laughed or cried together, and never made them feel discredited or less valued in anyway no matter the situation that caused them to seek help or medical treatment.”

4. “Mental Health Caregiver Hero”

Hanni Snyder, R.N., WellSpan Philhaven

Your Work at WellSpan:

“I graduated from nursing school in 2013. I have worked in acute rehabilitation, Medical/Surgery, IMCU, WellSpan Medical Group, and now WellSpan Philhaven. I was working as a clinical nurse coordinator for one of our doctor's offices and just had my first child. I wanted a better work/home life balance which led me to this part time position for WellSpan Philhaven.

“I have trained and covered most of the outpatient programs and enjoy the variety that brings.  In addition, I get to help out with special projects assigned by my supervisor such as chart audits, readiness rounds for Joint Commission, monthly and quarterly inspections, and assisting with policies and standard work.”

Facing challenges this past year:

“As WellSpan leaders and staff worked diligently to accommodate our patients and employees during this period of unknowns, and I think they all did a phenomenal job, it was particularly challenging for me to keep up with the frequent and unavoidable changes made to our procedures and standard works during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sometimes things would change from one day to the next. 

“I have ADHD which was diagnosed in college, and I had to develop skills to be very organized and detail oriented. Those skills, as well as my past positions and experiences as a nurse, have helped me to be successful in my role.”

Most rewarding days at work:

Usually, my most rewarding days at work are when I visibly make a difference in our patients’ lives. I still get great joy out of that, but over the past year, I found it most rewarding when I contributed to policies or standard works that assisted in making the lives of my fellow nurses or coworkers safer, easier and more efficient.”

Advice for others who want to work in a similar field:

“Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. There are so many wonderful things about working in this field, but we also face real challenges and dangers at times. I am lucky enough to have a supervisor that not only listens to my feedback but is also grateful to have it.”

5. “Mental Health Caregiver Hero”

Amy Eichelberger, LPN, physician office nurse

Your work at WellSpan:

“I started in behavioral health in 2006, working inpatient at the hospital. I transitioned to outpatient in 2014 but remained PRN at the hospital until this past year.  

“Currently, I work the phone triage for the behavioral health service line. I answer the phone calls directly when patients call in with concerns or issues about their medications, or if they are having symptoms that need to be addressed. 

“Each phone call is different, and you never know how you will be helping when you answer the phone. We communicate with community resources, nursing home and group homes to ensure patients are receiving the services they need.”

Facing challenges this past year:

“This past year has been challenging in many ways. We have many, many patients who had been stabilized for years, requiring minimal maintenance from our office and providers. With all the struggles and new stressors that people were facing this past year, it caused those patients to need to reach out again. So, we have seen a tremendous increase in patient calls and emails.   

“Several of our nurses were deployed to help out elsewhere, so we were already working short staffed.  It really took the whole team pulling together to keep things running smoothly. I spent one week deployed and then returned to the office to help with the triage line.  I also helped at the hospital on COVID-19 floors as a warm nurse.  And I have also been giving COVID-19 vaccinations at the WellSpan Clinics.”

Most rewarding days at work

“The best days are when you feel like you have really made a difference for somebody. Sometimes patients call in with increased anxiety and just need someone to talk to, to feel like they are being heard. It's also rewarding when patients call in to give updates and say they are feeling much better.”

Advice for others who want to work in a similar field:

“Stay flexible! Health care changes so rapidly and it is very important to remain flexible.  This past year or so has proven that. And keep learning! I have worked with many amazing psych nurses and psychiatrists who have had so much knowledge to share. I have tried to soak up as much as possible.”