MASStrong for Healthcare Workers

The on-going impact of the pandemic and post-pandemic years to the mental health and well-being of clinicians and caregivers cannot be overstated. Healthcare workers are grappling with pandemic-related trauma including PTSD, exhaustion, personal loss, moral injury, burnout, isolation from colleagues, job-related illness or injury, wages that are not keeping up with the cost of living, and difficulty accessing and/or prioritizing mental health. As a result, healthcare institutions across systems of care are struggling to fill positions. All of which weakens the Commonwealth’s ability to meet the healthcare needs of its residents.

Recognizing this danger, the state used $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds in 2021 to launch MASStrong for Healthcare Workers, a pilot program offering group-based mental health support to frontline healthcare workers including nursing home aides, long-term care aides, personal care attendants, home health workers, and residential counselors. All of the pilot program participants said they would like to attend more groups and 93% of participants said that they found the groups helpful.

When asked what was most helpful about the groups, feedback ranged from simply “being able to talk about being in healthcare” and “being listened to” to “learning about and gaining knowledge about self care” and “receiving a reflection from someone who was genuine.” What we learned in the pilot was that the power of MASStrong for Healthcare Workers is that it contradicts isolation by showing other healthcare workers that they’re not alone. By promoting personal resiliency, self-efficacy, and empowerment, participants learn to prioritize self care — which is, ironically, a very difficult skill for many caregivers to learn and adopt. Ultimately, sessions reinvigorated compassion and reduced burnout.

Based on this success, MASStrong for Healthcare Workers was expanded last year with $5 million from the Commonwealth’s Behavioral Health Trust Fund to reach additional health care workers including pharmacists, nurses, physicians, and social workers. The pilot and its expansion would not have happened with the support of legislators who champion mental health and mental health parity, including Senator Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and State Representative Ruth Balser.

Today, MASStrong for Healthcare Workers is administered by GPS Group Peer Support (GPS) in partnership with the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety. The program acts as a first line of defense in the mitigation of trauma, grief, moral injury and burnout, fostering resilience, and increasing retention of the healthcare workforce. Massachusetts-based organizations that support MASStrong for Healthcare Workers include the Home Care Alliance of MA, MA Association of Behavioral Health Systems, MA Association of Emergency Nurses, MA Association of Physician Assistants, MA Assisted Living Association, MA Hospital Association, MA Nurses Association, MA Physicians Assistants, MA Senior Care Association, and 1199 SEIU.

MASStrong for Healthcare Workers utilizes the GPS model of group-based social support and mental health care, which incorporates mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, peer-to-peer support, psychosocial education, and other evidence-based modalities. A growing body of evidence shows that this form of care consistently reduces feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression and increases feelings of hope. Studies show that it has been effective with populations as diverse as parents dealing with postpartum depression, residents of rural areas living with chronic conditions, health care professionals who’ve made mistakes resulting in harm to patients, people living with schizophrenia, and people dealing with substance use disorder. It can be delivered by mental health clinicians or trained, non-clinical workers with relevant lived experience.

Another vital benefit of this form of care is that it addresses systemic inequities in healthcare treatment and services. It is just as effective when delivered online as in person. It can be easily tailored for culturally and linguistically diverse communities when groups are led by trained peer specialists who are also members of that community. This is vital for racial and ethnic minorities, people who are LGBTQIA+, people who are living with disabilities, refugees and new immigrants, and others who do not often find themselves openly represented in the ranks of mental health care professionals.

Healthcare professionals are invited to learn the model and bring it to their practice, community, and/or other providers. If you are interested in running a MASStrong for Healthcare Workers group, you will be paid while you are trained in the model and paid for group facilitation. Email MASStrong@grouppeersupport for more information.