The COVID-19 pandemic has led to abrupt changes and challenges for VA health care workers. Care providers deal with schedule shifts, new work demands, and adjustments to family time and self-care. These changes can understandably lead to an increase in feelings of stress and anxiety.

Many of our health care workers are managing stressful situations while being repeatedly exposed to the unknown course of the pandemic.

In response, the Hampton VA Medical Center has created and implemented the Stress Management Response Team (SMaRT). The initiative is modeled after the military’s Combat Operational Stress Control (COSC) that uses psychological first aid (PFA).

The SMaRT team proactively and preemptively addresses staff reactions to stress to support employees who are part of our greater mission serving Veterans.

Dental assistant Bahar Cabrera and “Angel Wings”

Presence of team leads to positive staff reactions

The team offers group and individual options while also focusing on enhancing overall wellness for the medical center. The presence of the SMaRT team in high-risk areas has led to positive staff reactions. High-risk areas include Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, Mental Health Residential Recovery Treatment Program and screening tents.

Carrie Barber is an emergency department nurse who values what the SMaRT team is providing.

“The Emergency Department is a high-stress department,” she said. “We greatly appreciate having a neutral party available to talk to staff. Many nursing staff open up more to different faces once that rapport is obtained. That will help them during this trying time.”

Rapidly creating proactive programming in the face of this national pandemic reinforces the message of unity during times of uncertainty.

An opportunity to share ideas

“The idea to implement such a team was very innovative, thoughtful and necessary,” said Sophia Dix, a supervisor in emergency management. “The daily virtual interactions allow us as employees to have a safe space to express how we’re feeling in response to the drastic changes we’ve all undergone due to COVID-19. It also gives us an opportunity to share coping and stress management ideas among ourselves as a community.”

Tiffany Lange-Altman, PsyD, Tamara Lazenby, MD

During the pandemic, leadership and employees across the facility have joined together to encourage one another. From welcoming staff in the morning with motivational signs to the Soaring in Solidarity butterfly, there are bright moments happening every day at Hampton VA.

In the photo at the top of this blog, taken in February, Jodi Amit, Tracey Avery, Scott Radke and Karlene Brown wave signs to employees as they arrive, thanking them for their service.

The emphasis on employee wellness during this time has been met with corresponding improvements in Veteran care measures. Veteran trust and satisfaction scores have increased while facility wait times for primary care appointments have decreased.

While we can’t predict the future, the staff at Hampton VA know we’re all in this together. And because of the SMaRT program, we have the tools to help each other through the uncertainty.

Key staff members who deserve recognition for leading the charge are: Sahani Howie, Jess Graves, Tracey Avery, the SMaRT team (Tiffany Lange-Altman, Tamara Lazenby, Denise Greenwood, Alexis Zornitta, Laurin Roberts, Fallon Trent, Erica Roy, and Michelle Bradford), Ashley Jarrett and the Pentad.)

Tiffany Lange-Altman is a Doctor of Psychology and John Rogers is a public affairs officer. Both work at the Hampton VA Medical Center.

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Published on Aug. 6, 2020

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