Friday, April 16, 2021

Being an Asian Healthcare Worker Complicated My Access to Mental Health Care

Why referring employees to Employee Assitance Program (EAP) is not enough

“Heroes work here,” the sign by the entrance of my hospital says. After entering the hospital, I wash my hands, get my temperature checked, and grab my daily mask. I pray on my way to the pharmacy that I will do my best to keep myself and my patients safe for the day. Then I add my prayer to keep my family safe and together. As families spend more time together and in closer confines than before Covid-19, many families’ mental health is compromised, especially for healthcare workers.

As an Asian American healthcare worker and a caregiver, it is tough to balance work and personal life and the pandemic has made it worse.

We have experienced a different level of racism in the US after Covid-19, which has been stressful for my family and me. What was just a distressing event before Covid-19 is now something that drains everyone’s energy. I have found myself exhausted from the challenges at work and now face the challenges of finding mental health help for my family and myself.

Many healthcare organizations like mine offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Essentially, an employee assistance program is an employee benefit program that assists employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being. In theory, they’re a great idea.

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Practically though, for me, the EAP has proved far from a solution right now. I contacted the program, and I received an email with a list of providers’ phone numbers. I called all ten practices listed during breaks, through the drives, and between taking care of kids. None, except one, would take EAP patients because of high demand.

It’s a pandemic and we’ve ramped up all the other medical services, but one of the most critical, mental health, has been left behind.

Some asked if I wanted to be waitlisted. I also inquired about bilingual practitioners who could speak Korean as an option while searching because of my family’s ethnicity and cultural sensitivity. The EAP representative contacted me back with bad news after five days. She could not find anyone that matched my preferences, but she said she would keep looking since telehealth would also be an option to consider.

I appreciated her gesture. It is hard to find someone who will spend that much time in healthcare nowadays. I asked her why they did not provide emails to me? I could send one email to all providers to inquire about the service rather than calling each practice, leaving a voicemail, waiting for them to call back during my work hours, and calling them back again to leave a message and repeat.

She agreed how frustrating the process was for someone in my position to find suitable help with my needs. This process alone took me at least a week to figure out I could only see one specific therapist. I needed someone my insurer would cover as I suspected our family would need more than the six sessions provided under EAP coverage to see any progress. I have been there and done that. 

The therapist told me I would need to drive to a more distant location among his insured offices to cover me after the EAP sessions or when my insurance elected to stop paying for virtual visits. Since I am determined to make progress in healing, I have moved forward with him and will be seeing him next week through a virtual visit.

From the point of inception, this entire process till we eventually see a family therapist will take us three weeks. I don’t even know if he will be a good fit. I am hopeful he is, as he sounded very caring. He is not bilingual or from my ethnic background, but I have no choice. I can pay out of pocket towards my deductible and get mental care that way, but I don’t want to waste resources provided to me when I don’t know whether he/she will be a good fit for our family.

I have already spent more than $12,000+ on mental health and am exhausted from trying to find a solution that works for my family. This is my last hope.

I wonder what families of other healthcare workers that need mental health care are going through, especially those like me who may have specific needs. What about people who don’t even have resources like me? What do they do? Healthcare workers get to work in the emotional turmoil of patients and caregivers. They are expected to provide the best care possible while dealing with their own well-being.

Referring health care workers to an EAP is not enough. Employers need to assume more responsibility for the wellbeing of frontline healthcare. Healthcare leadership needs to be aware of healthcare workers’ mental health needs, a priority that affects their ability to provide the best care for patients. This has less to do with race/cultural differences and more to do with basic care for employees.

We ALL suffer to varying degrees from mental health challenges, and the pandemic has amplified our need for qualified and effective care.

The aspects of race and culture add dimension to the challenge of securing proper care and cannot be ignored. Cases like my own should be seen as opportunities to assess and improve care access, not as problems that exist outside of the system.

The dangerous and rampant racism experienced by Asian Americans deserves attention as well.

There are solutions

There are many simple and effective solutions that we can apply to improve the current workflow of EAP’s.

  • Organizations can assist in the process by providing an onsite therapist healthcare workers can see and who can, in turn, refer for longer care.
  • Maybe reach out to volunteer organizations or mental health organizations to see if retired therapists can help. They are often eager to assist voluntarily.
  • EAP’s need to be more flexible and upgrade old analog systems to fit patients’ needs.
  • Phone numbers are not enough in this digital era of the internet, where texts and emails are now how we communicate.
  • Correctly qualifying the patient’s needs before providing a list of names can significantly improve matching patients with providers.
  • An awareness of the culture and language of the employees and patients before providing a list of providers is not only important but essential. If not available, having the flexibility and options to expand the network of providers should be considered.

For everyone to move forward with this pandemic, we need to work together to make changes now. And it has to start with caring for healthcare workers so that we can care properly for our patients. Healing in this era of Covid-19 is possible only when we are open to changes in healthcare.

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This article lives here: Mental HealthBeing an Asian Healthcare Worker Complicated My Access to Mental Health Care
Soojin Junhttps://jun-soojin.medium.com/
I am a pharmacist and a patient advocate who is passionate about patient safety, empathy in healthcare, health equity, and bringing voiceless patient experiences to the conversations of healthcare innovation. Being a patient safety and quality improvement fanatic, I am learning skills and seeking ways to bring better communication in healthcare, as most problems in healthcare, whether it is teamwork, patient-provider relationships, patient and AI, and interprofessional relationships, communication is the key! My vision as a Pharmacist is international collaboration among the countries who have the same equity problems for patients with language barriers. Together, I believe, the problem can be solved, but only if we start talking about it more

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