Health Advice



Nurses on pandemic front lines look to refill their 'empty cup'

Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Health & Fitness

Besides adopting new processes and managing staffing shortfalls to address the demand on nurses, just about every health care facility has added or revamped health, wellness and mentoring programs.

More than 90 facilities nationwide and 24 in Maryland now use an online peer counseling program called Caring for the Caregiver: Implementing RISE, which stands for “resilience in stressful events.” It was designed by the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality and backed by the nonprofit Maryland Patient Safety Center, which reports that requests from local hospital staffs seeking support have jumped.

LifeBridge Health’s Sinai Hospital in North Baltimore turned to another online peer mentoring program during the pandemic called Cabana. It was created by Even Health, an Annapolis company selected last year by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and LifeBridge for an incubator for health care startups.

Debra Morton, chief nursing officer at Sinai and Grace hospitals in Baltimore, said she joined a Cabana session so she could better pitch the service to her staff of up to 1,800 nurses. A nurse for nearly 35 years, she said she was surprised at how much she enjoyed the service, which lets users participate anonymously, and now looks for sessions that fit her schedule.

Morton said she and her nursing staff were thrown by the recent story of a nurse in California who died by suicide in her own emergency department.

They already have endured two years of an intense workload, co-workers leaving and hostile social media directed at health care workers by those opposed to vaccines and mask mandates.


“We are in a very vulnerable stage right now. It’s been tough,” she said. “In the sessions, you can see a therapist, but no one can see you. … When you’re talking to strangers, you really feel like you can talk about it all.”

She said there are sessions about purpose that “remind us why we got into the profession,” as well as on balancing work and family, and managing your emotions. She’s also been recommending that her nurses use the app’s 15-minute meditation sessions during their breaks. Her aim is to ensure such programs are “normalized” after the pandemic ends.

The workloads are unlikely to ease anytime soon — even with fewer COVID infections — because of ongoing staff shortages, which vary by department and hospital. Shortages of nurses, doctors and support staff have existed for years but were exacerbated by the pandemic.

The shortages at hospitals around the state are stark: 25% of nurse positions are vacant, according to the Maryland Hospital Association.


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