Published on June 22, 2021

woman talking on phone hand on forehead

Avera Offers Free Hotline for Health Care Workers

The heroes on the front lines of health care have a new tool to help them deal with the stress, depression or anxiety they might face due to the effects of COVID-19 and life changes related to the pandemic.

Avera previously launched a free 24/7 Health Care Workers Stress Hotline for its own employees, and is now expanding it to health care workers from any organization in South Dakota. Behavioral health counselors answer the calls, and the hotline can be reached at 1-833-653-0515.

“Front-line caregivers have been through a lot,” said Thomas Otten, Assistant Vice President for Avera Behavioral Health Services. “This hotline can help those who might need to debrief or seek resources to deal with the personal impacts of their experiences.”

The challenges of the pandemic hit many health care professionals especially hard.

“We realize that every nurse, provider and technician has been there for patients and families, and now we want to be there for them,” Otten said.

What Happens When You Call?

Hotline counselors will listen to callers and refer them to helpful resources in their community, such as an Employee Assistance Program or counseling.

Heidi Wagner, Avera Behavioral Health assessment counselor, is among counselors who answer the 24/7 Health Care Workers Stress Hotline. “We’ve heard from health care professionals who have been extremely stressed. There’s a lot of anxiety that they’re experiencing,” she said.

“We’re trained to quickly figure out what their need is and how to connect them to the best resources close to their particular location,” Wagner said. For anyone who is in danger of harming themselves, the hotline can direct them toward inpatient care.

This service is modeled after Avera’s Farm and Rural Stress Hotline that was developed in 2019 when flooding and other conditions led to difficult times in the agricultural industry.

Like that hotline, this program directs people to the most appropriate level of care – both Avera and non-Avera providers of mental health services.

“Our behavioral health providers have been able to do a lot of remote counseling throughout the pandemic and we’re continuing to offer that,” Wagner added.

Wagner recognized that it can be difficult for a health care professional – who’s there to help others – to reach out for help for themselves. “I think health care professionals in general think they should be above feeling the effects that anyone else would encounter in a similar situation, but that’s not true.”

Reasons Behind the Grief and Stress

Numerous patient deaths are among the top reasons for stress and grief among health care workers. “One of hardest things for a health care worker is when families are not able to be with their loved one at the end of life. The doctor, nurse or patient care tech may end up holding up a tablet or cell phone while families say their goodbyes. It’s extremely difficult,” Wagner said.

Debriefing among colleagues who have been through the same thing – similar to firefighters who debrief after a major fire – can be helpful. “Processing what you experienced can be healing – what you saw, heard or smelled. Because all of these things can be triggers toward reliving that experience,” Wagner said. “Dealing with the impacts right away can help prevent future long-term problems associated with a traumatic experience.”

Otten said the health care profession includes many people beyond those in patient care settings. “Foremost, we want every person, from human resources to materials management to clinical positions to know one thing: You are not alone.”

Subscribe to our

wellness e-newsletter