MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It has been a trying year for Minnesota’s healthcare community, some who were faced with caring for the state’s sickest COVID patients.

Some of Bethesda Hospital’s frontline workers recently told WCCO they were taking a break after what they’ve been through.

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The mental pain has led to the creation of a new position at M Health Fairview. WCCO spoke with Dr. Bryan Williams, the Chief Well Being Officer, about what it will take to help an industry heal.

Dr. Williams is proud of the physical protection of its 32,000 employees at 60 clinics and 10 hospitals this year.

“Twenty-nine-hundred healthcare workers died in this country due to COVID. We weren’t one of them. We didn’t lose a single person,” Dr. Williams said.

Still, worries surrounding mental health remain.

“Especially in healthcare, we do a terrible job at recognizing our own mental illness,” he said. “It’s a stigma because we are trained to be super tough.”

Dr. Williams is tasked in his new role with breaking through those barriers.

(credit: CBS)

“This is our effort to show that well-being is top of mind at our organization at M Health Fairview,” he said.

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From regular chaplain rounds, to meal donations and paid leave, several new programs have been born out of the last year. Code Lavender allows self-applications of aroma therapy while at work. Battle Buddies offers a peer-to-peer support network modeled after the military.

“This is similar to war-time techniques, how to support each other through a really hard time,” he said.

Dr. Williams admits retention and burnout will face the profession for many months to come.

“Some people have quit their jobs because of COVID, or at least gone on a pause because it was really hard on them,” he said.

It’s why meeting people where they and making every effort not to brush off stress he says is critical.

“We need to help change that culture of medicine, and I hope to be a part of that change, he said.

Dr. Williams says to support healthcare workers, people can get vaccinated when it’s their turn, continue to social distance and wear masks. He also encourages patients to share their success stories from the last year as a way to highlight the positive.

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M Health Fairview just launched its “MN Mighty” campaign. It encourages the public to share stories of care that made a difference in their lives, or the lives of loved ones, to honor M Health Fairview’s healthcare heroes.

Liz Collin