Health care expert: Employers must prepare for ‘mentally vulnerable workforce’

It is essential for employers to prepare for a more mentally-vulnerable workforce as employees start returning to work mid-pandemic, according to the experts at Lehigh Valley Business’ 2020 Health Care Symposium, a virtual event held the morning of Aug. 6.

“There has been a great increase in people self-reporting moderate to severe depression, even psychosis,” said Carolyn Lamparella, licensed professional counselor and program director for Preferred EAP with the Allentown-based Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Lamparella said that the cumulative effects of hypervigilance, loss and change have taken their toll on the nation’s workforce. And since the workplace sometimes provides a person’s primary source of support structure, it’s key that employers and employees become more comfortable talking about mental health, she said.

Leadership must make providing support for employee mental health a priority, according to Lamparella. “Don’t let anyone suffer in silence,” she said.

Amy Nyberg, president of Coordinated Health, part of Lehigh Valley Health Network, shared criteria that businesses and schools must have in place in order for people to return to these institutions safely. They are:

1) Workplace hygiene guidelines and reducing the risk of exposure — all must wear masks, use social distancing, and practice frequent handwashing.
2) Virus surveillance systems – Employees and visitors must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms
3) A plan for what to do if someone gets sick on premises must be in place, including how to access health care quickly.

Also at the LVB Health Care Symposium, local health care experts discussed the need for physicians and treatment providers to adapt “overnight” to the world of telehealth amidst the coronavirus crisis.

With telehealth visits increasing dramatically as patients hesitate to visit brick and mortar offices, health care providers have had to quickly develop a new “webside” manner, according to Dr. Eric Bean of the Center for Connected Care and Innovation at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

“Patients love the convenience of access,” he said of telehealth. He added that senior citizens have been the population with the biggest growth in use of virtual health care visits.

Todd Robbins, owner of Robbins Rehabilitation East, a group of Lehigh Valley-based physical therapy clinics, said that the increased use of virtual visits at his practice has come with advantages for patients.

“Patients who don’t have transportation access are still able to get physical therapy,” he said. “And if I can see you faster, as I often can with telehealth appointments, there is a better chance at recovery. You can stop a small problem from becoming a big problem.”

Telehealth also offers a lot of potential cost savings, according to Christina Musser, senior network director at the Bethlehem-based St. Luke’s University Health Network.

“A $49 virtual health care visit is a lot less expensive than an $800 emergency department visit,” she said. Musser also mentioned that the increased use of telehealth may eventually reduce the need for expensive brick and mortar offices.

She cautioned that there is the potential for virtual health care visits to be overused however, if patients push off necessary in-office procedures in favor of telehealth sessions.

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