By David Lewellen
Chaplains have an important role to play in keeping employees grounded, Adam Gonzalez told the NACC conference.
“The overall goal is that if we have healthy and well caregivers, it’ll translate to optimal patient care,” said Gonzalez, the founding director of the of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at Stony Brook Medicine on Long Island,
In the final plenary speech of the 2022 National Conference in Buffalo, NY, Gonzalez said that burnout and stress, which were major problems in healthcare before the pandemic, have only gotten worse in the past two years. But cultivating resilience, the ability to bounce back after something bad, has the potential to improve staff well-being and performance.
“The glass is actually full,” Gonzalez said with a smile. “It has half water and half air in it.”
Gonzalez said that he learned about chaplaincy in when Stony Brook launched an employee support team in February 2020 – just before the pandemic hit. The system established a Code Lavender rapid response for employees’ emotional stress, and chaplains are among the first responders. “It can be hard to remember to take off the mask and have some water,” Gonzalez said.
Speaking of the toll of stress and burnout, he said, “If you don’t make time for wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for illness.” Mindfulness, which has grown in popularity in recent years, is not about feeling good or relaxation, he said, but about learning to observe and describe, non-judgmentally and effectively.
Mindfulness interventions at work can reduce burnout and improve well-being, he said, such as the “relaxation response.” Practicing it in a quiet place and finding a focal point, such as praying the rosary, can “help build up the body’s resilience,” Gonzalez said, enabling the body to return to a relaxed state more quickly after encountering stressors.
He admitted that the word “resilience” is problematic for some people, since “People get tired of hearing that you need to do more, you’re already doing your work and you need to take better care of yourself.” In that case, he said, “empowerment” may be a better approach.
Gonzalez also recommends that organizations have a chief wellness officer who can coordinate different initiatives in different departments. All the mindfulness interventions in the world won’t help if the employer itself is routinely causing stress.
Like anyone else, Gonzalez can feel his own negativity building, but sometimes he can himself out of it in the moment. One helpful technique is “sharing new and good things while leaving out the ‘but,’” which drew a chuckle from audience. “It totally shifts our attitude when we focus on those negative experiences.”