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Hospitals turning to wellness officers to ensure mental health of staff is prioritized

Posted at 2:51 PM, Nov 27, 2020

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah – It’s been said that dogs are a man’s best friend. Jared Johnstun is lucky enough to have not one, but two furry sidekicks.

“Yes, you’re good boys aren’t you?” Johnstun said to his two goldendoodles sitting beside him on the floor. “They’re a little tired today too.”

Jared Johnston knows a thing or two about being worn out.

“I’m a physician who works mainly in the intensive care unit,” Johnstun said. “I’m a pulmonary critical care doctor.”

Since COVID hit, the doctor has been going non-stop.

“You know, for 10 days or 12 days in a row, I’m in the hospital every day, some days I’m there for 12 hours,” Johnstun said.

As a doctor, he’s seen it all but for him, the pandemic is different.

“It was definitely a shock to me,” he said.

About two months in, Dr. Johnstun, used to living alone, suddenly felt like something was wrong.

“You know, I just realized that I wasn’t doing well,” he said.

So, he made a move he never expected.

“I’m a 40-year-old ICU doctor and I live with my parents,” he said with a chuckle.

Johnstun now lives with his mom and dad near the hospital he works at.

“I tried to do all this by myself initially and I just couldn’t do it,” Johnstun said.

He’s not alone.

“In medicine, there has been this long tradition of everything is fine and we got this,” said Dr. Amy Locke, the Chief Wellness Officer at the University of Utah Hospital.

Doctors and nurses are facing challenges unlike many have ever seen in their career. That is why hospitals like the University of Utah are turning to wellness officers.

“It’s kind of like counseling,” Locke said. “You know, checking in, making sure people are doing OK and that they’re able to access resources.”

At the University of Utah’s resiliency center, their resources are being used more than ever.

“Our interactions with people have more than doubled over the last six months,” Locke said.

Doctors like Johnstun are applauding the efforts made by hospital groups throughout the country.

“In general, the mental health of the physicians and nurses and all health care workers is something that really hasn’t been talked about.”

He said talking to other health care workers on the COVID-19 front lines has been eye opening.

“We’re talking about what is it going to look like in 10 years when you have a whole generation of doctors and nurses who have PTSD?” Johnstun said.

As for Johnstun, he has found healing in being around family, practicing yoga, meditating and exercising.

Even after all he has been through in the past eight months, he believes he’s exactly where he should be.

“(Doctors) have found a calling and a purpose in fighting COVID and taking care of the people who have COVID,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”