Telehealth, teamwork, and other silver linings during a pandemic
A reflection from Amy Mensch, RN, Program Manager, Outpatient Psychiatry for Mental Health Awareness Month
Every year, May is identified as Mental Health Awareness Month. I don’t know if there has ever been another year when it feels more relevant and significant to stop for a moment and consider mental health and what that means. The past year has been extremely difficult. Challenges at work struggles at home, confusion, divisiveness, isolation, and fear have visited us daily. For those of us working in mental health, we’ve seen a magnification of all the things we knew were already a problem for the patients we serve, as well as ourselves and our family members; an increase in suicide rates, an increase in acuity of psychiatric symptoms, increase in substance use, and increase demand for services.
I distinctly remember the day when the pandemic made its way to us and we realized things had to change. We met with our teams and told them that most of them needed to go home while we figured out how we were going to provide care to our patients amid a pandemic that took away our ability to see our patients in person. Mental health care and follow-up are not something you can just put on hold. Patients need regular follow up with medication providers, nurses, and therapists. That kind of care doesn’t wait during a pandemic, so we faced what felt like an insurmountable challenge to identify how we would make sure our patients received the care they needed. In the first few months, our team ran on adrenaline. So much happened so fast.
I’ll be honest, it was stressful! Sometimes when faced with stress, it’s important to step back and look past the stuff that seems so terrible and identify the good stuff. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that early on in the pandemic but now, after a year has passed, I can see the good stuff. There have certainly been silver linings.
It’s not uncommon to hear the staff at Hennepin Healthcare say “I work here because I believe in the mission”. Our mission is to ensure “outstanding care for everyone” in our community. In a pandemic, you can’t just pack up, close down, and wait for it to pass if your mission is to be there for EVERYONE. At Hennepin Healthcare, we didn’t do that, we dug in and got busy. In the past year, I watched amazing colleagues put their heart and soul into working through this incredible challenge. We did that across all departments. People worked together in ways that had never happened before. We got to know each other better, we relied on each other more, and we stepped up and took on things that we felt like we didn’t have time for in the past.
A great example of that is the implementation of telehealth. Frankly, telehealth health saved us in the psychiatry department. It gave us not only a way to continue to provide essential care to our patients but also gave us new opportunities to connect with our patients in ways we have never done before. While most of us on the clinical side of things can’t even begin to understand the complexities of implementing telehealth and the IT infrastructure that requires, we didn’t have to worry about it. We had colleagues that worked day and night to get it up and running. They quickly taught us how to use it, they helped us perfect it along the way by developing services to fit individual needs. Things like adding interpreters to video visits for our non-English speaking patients, creating log-in options for patients who didn’t have access or the ability to manage some of the tools needed for telehealth, and making themselves available at all hours of the day to troubleshoot problems we encountered, made a huge difference. This type of teamwork is not unheard of at Hennepin Healthcare but the amount and intensity of that teamwork was significantly amplified during such a challenging year. We learned to trust each other more, we learned to respect the work of other departments, and we helped each other stay grounded, and even share a few laughs along the way.
Telehealth also brought us closer to our patients. Not only did we not lose them from care during this time, but we also got to experience patients differently than we typically do in the exam room or clinic office. We got to see the inside of houses, pets, and family members we’ve never met before, and even had to remind our patients it’s not safe to have your visit with your provider while driving your car! In the past, the challenge of getting downtown, parking, and getting to a provider on time could be significant. With telehealth, we realized that patients actually show up for their visits more often. They no longer have to choose if they should attend their visit or if they should go to work. With telehealth, they could do both. The convenience and our ability to stay connected in new and different ways has been a very big silver lining during the COVID pandemic.
While humor is not a treatment for mental illness, it’s well-known that humor can help with stress and be used as a coping tool. In a year with so much turmoil, fear, and heartache, it hasn’t always been easy to find joy and humor. However, there are been some silver linings there too. We’ve learned new catchphrases that usually make us laugh. The most important one is “You’re on mute”, which is my personal favorite. We’ve had the occasional cat climbing over the computer of a co-worker during an important Zoom meeting. We’ve had people forget to mute so you got to hear things you probably shouldn’t have heard. We’ve had kids join meetings so they could wave at all the co-workers just once…or maybe over and over. Those are special moments. Moments together, whether working from a hospital office or from a kitchen table at home, where we had the opportunity to connect and get to know each other as a team in a different way. It’s those moments that helped keep it real and keep us connected during a time when we could have easily drifted apart.
While I am hopeful we are past the worst of our most recent challenges and I recognize what a difficult year this has been, I am filled with hope and confidence that because of the challenges this year has brought us, our Hennepin Healthcare team is positioned to be better than ever and can get back to focusing on our mission of providing “outstanding care to EVERYONE in our community”.
As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope that you will also be able to find some silver linings despite this difficult year. However, if that’s difficult or you are struggling, please reach out for help. Below are some resources that may be helpful:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Throughout Minnesota: call **CRISIS (**274747)
- Crisis Text Line: is available for free, 24/7 by texting MN to 741741 from a mobile phone to reach your local crisis response agency
Amy Mensch, RN
Program Manager, Adult Psychiatry Clinic / Primary Care Behavioral Health
Amy has been on the Hennepin Healthcare team as both a nurse and a leader in the Department of Psychiatry for over 18 years. She has focused much of her 30 years in nursing on the care and support of individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness and their families.