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Caring for our caregivers

Few health care organizations have programs to support staff after adverse or traumatic events happen in the workplace. Tufts Medical Center is part of a statewide effort to change that with the launch of the confidential Peer Support Program and help from the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety

Dr. Weingart speaking at the Peer support group“In addition to our patients and their loved ones, we know that unexpected patient outcomes can affect members of the care team,” said Saul Weingart, MD, MPP, PhD, Chief Medical Officer at Tufts Medical Center. “Peer support has been proven to help staff heal after these situations.”

About the Betsy Lehman Center

The Betsy Lehman Center is piloting Peer Support Programs at 15 sites, including Tufts MC, each tailored to provide internal support at that specific institution. Tufts MC Peer Supporters are nominated by someone in his/her department and trained by expert faculty to provide peer support. 

During a recent four-hour Peer Support training session at Tufts MC, Dr. Weingart shared a personal experience—a time when he lost a patient suddenly and unexpectedly—that affected him deeply. 

“I felt isolated and was afraid to talk about it for a very long time,” said Dr. Weingart. “We deal with life and death. The things we report back to our families—they can’t believe.”

How support helps at Tufts MC

A group of clinical staff members at the peer support group. Over the next year, the Betsy Lehman Center will continue to assist Tufts MC establish the peer support network that can be used when needed. In addition to on-site training to be a Peer Supporter, the center provides post-training support and implementation as needed, staff surveys to boost hospitals’ capacity to tailor and improve the support program, and a learning community across the pilot sites to share accomplishments and strategies for overcoming challenges. 

“The ability to speak with a Peer Supporter is a critical resource to provide our staff and will help reduce the loneliness, trauma, and burnout that can affect healthcare workers following unexpected outcomes and events at work,” said Dr. Weingart. “However, using the service we’re offering is purely voluntary.”

He also stressed that the program offers one level of support but not therapy. He said there are additional support services in place at Tufts MC that can provide further assistance. 

“We hope our caregivers utilize the supportive environment we’ve created,” Dr. Weingart said. “Establishing a safe space at work in which clinicians and staff have an opportunity to recover following trauma is our goal.”

Dr. Weingart concluded, “Providing a culture that allows for an emotional recovery after loss will produce even better caregivers for our patients.” 

This pilot is part of a larger effort by the center to ensure that all individuals affected by a difficult outcome —patients, families, health care providers, and staff—get the support they need from others who have had a similar experience.