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Sparrow supports employee mental health by targeting overall wellness

November 16, 2023
The exterior of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI on Sept. 23, 2020.
The exterior of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI on Sept. 23, 2020.

Sparrow Hospital utilizes a robust employee assistance program targeting several aspects of overall wellness in order to support the mental health of its employees.

The program spans from free counseling to financial advising.

The mental health-specific aspect of the employee assistance program consists of a 24/7 U.S.-based call center for confidential counseling. Counseling is available to employees as well as their spouses and dependents, Kurt Batteen, director of human resources caregiver support, said.

After doing an intake session through the call center, employees and their families will be directed to the correct resource for further counseling. Batteen said the hospital provides eight free sessions per issue brought to the attention of the employee assistance program every year for each individual within the family.

“They really can compound the number of free one-hour visits that they get to support their mental and physical well-being,” Batteen said.

The employee assistance program also includes a crisis management team that can be deployed to help caregivers through traumatic events. Batteen said the team will send out local crisis-trained therapists to come on-site and work with caregivers who have experienced a traumatic event.

Batteen said that on the night of the MSU shooting, the crisis management team was enacted faster and smoother than ever before.

“From the time that I got connected with that leadership team first thing the morning after (the shooting), we had the first therapist on site to support those that were the first responders within an hour,” Batteen said. “And I continue to be grateful for that partnership and how quick they were able to respond and the amount of support they were able to provide over the entire rest of that week.”

Sparrow’s partner for the crisis management team, as well as their primary referral source for the employee assistance program, is Therapy Today East Lansing.

The employee assistance program also includes a financial wellness component, which advises employees about budgeting and retirement planning.

There is also a legal support component of the program that includes will preparation.

The program also features Foundations, a platform similar to Calm or Headspace, where employees can input their health history and current mental state and receive direction to the tools and resources that best fit their needs.

An online portal for the employee assistance program allows employees and their family members to create their own accounts and easily access a variety of tools and resources on their own.

The entire system is outsourced to increase confidentiality, Batteen said.

Batteen said that within the hospital organization, only he and two other individuals have access to detailed reports about the use of the assistance program. The reports do not include personal information, but the team is able to view what topics and concerns employees are searching for, he said.

“That allows us to redirect the programming in the future,” Batteen said. “We do have live webinars that we put on and we coordinate, and we can pick from hundreds of courses that licensed therapists can do live via WebEx or in-person for a specific population.”

The hospital began a secondary program three years ago through a partnership with Michigan Works: The Business Resource Network. Batteen said this network is designed to remove any barriers employees may face when trying to get to work.

The top three areas the network tackles are childcare, transportation and housing, Batteen said.

“The program sets you up with a coach that will help walk you through what resources might be available locally within the organization or with statewide resources,” Batteen said. “Out of the over 500 individuals that have participated in that in the last three years, 96% of them are still retained today. And we have a lot of really positive success stories of people getting the help that they need to be able to alleviate that stress.”

Regional Benefits Manager Carol Fredericks said the goal of the programs are to focus on the overall wellness of Sparrow’s employees. Beyond just providing therapy services, they want to reduce the stressors that can impact the employees’ mental health.

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Batteen said keeping caregivers mentally and physically healthy is vital for them to provide quality care for the Lansing community, which is why the employee assistance program exists. He said the program will continue to monitor and adapt to new challenges and stressors so that necessary resources are always available for employees.

“Everybody that is employed as part of the Sparrow health system has either a direct or an indirect influence on the health of our community,” Batteen said. “If we are not taking care of each other, if we're not taking care of ourselves, we're not taking care of those employees here at Sparrow, they can't come in, they can't provide the best care possible for the patients in all the communities that we support.”

Fredericks said the program also prioritizes fighting the stigma against mental health and encouraging employees to take care of themselves as much as they take care of others.

“We are making sure that we remind caregivers that even though they tend to go just into caregiving mode and go patient to patient to patient, to try and remind them to pause and that they need care as well,” Fredericks said. “It’s our job to help them stay well so that they can help our community be well.”

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