While people across all industries have dealt with increased anxiety and stress due to the coronavirus pandemic, those feelings are amplified for frontline healthcare workers.
Up to two-thirds of healthcare workers have reported experiencing psychiatric symptoms like post-traumatic stress, acute anxiety, substance use or depression, Penn Medicine said in a recent statement, citing a JAMA Network study. In response to the crisis, the health network announced that it was rolling out COBALT, a digital platform for health care employees that offers immediate access to mental health support.
The platform connects Penn employees to curated mental health and wellness content, and uses targeted assessments to triage employees to the right level and type of support. The platform has scheduling and telehealth capabilities, and it provides HIPAA-compliant mental healthcare at a safe distance, the health institution said.
Some COBALT resources include peer connections, resilience coaches, psychotherapists and psychiatrists, as well as podcasts, articles, mindfulness sessions and other forms of group support. All resources are free for Penn Medicine employees, and creators are discussing a possible expansion to all Penn employees, Penn Medicine said in a statement.
COBALT was created by Cecilia Livesey, chief of integrated psychiatric services in the Perelman School of Medicine, along with with Penn’s Center for Health Care Innovation, Penn’s Workforce Wellness Committee, the Department of Psychiatry and UnitedHealth Group.
Livesey told Technical.ly that she’d been working on a “COBALT-like concept” before the pandemic, “but the urgent need and the acute symptoms that we started to see in the healthcare workforce catalyzed the build.”
Depending on the situation, Livesey said, a patient could be forwarded to a range of care. They might look for “on your own time” content that has video, audio, worksheets, podcasts or articles, or maybe they can join a group session. There’s also the option of one-on-one support.
Within 30 days of rolling out the platform, COBALT had seen about 8,000 sessions from about 5,000 individuals, said Kelley Kugler, COBALT lead and innovation manager at the Center for Health Care Innovation.
And in recent weeks, as the Philadelphia region and regions around the world have seen protests and civil unrest in the wake of yet another instance of police brutality, the COBALT team partnered with Penn’s Center for Health Equity, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and the Alliance of Minority Physicians to create mental health content that addresses racism, social injustice and other related topics on the platform.
COBALT is hosting groups that address racial trauma and is facilitating the connection to one-to-one care for those who would like to discuss their feelings or concerns with a peer, coach, therapist or psychiatrist, a Penn Medicine spokesperson said. The COBALT team is also building a way for people to write about their experiences, in a form of “narrative medicine.”
“The partnership between Penn and UnitedHealth Group R&D signifies the future of healthcare — one where researchers, payers, providers, and health systems work together to intercept and treat disease,” said Allison Davenport, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Pennsylvania, in a statement. “It takes creative partnership, collaboration, and rapid responses to address problems like the mental health of our healthcare workers during COVID-19.”
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