By: Lori Chelius, MBA/MPH

Eisner Health’s journey through implementing trauma-informed care (TIC) began more than six years ago when Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deborah Lerner attended a conference focused on community healthcare and wandered into a session hosted by a social worker who worked for the San Diego Police Department.

The social worker’s story of how TIC had transformed her work planted a seed in Dr. Lerner’s mind, which continued growing over time as she observed real-world challenges with staff, providers, and patients at Eisner Health. Regardless of the people involved, she noticed a similar pattern of escalation and conflict in high-stress situations. For example, a verbal complaint or threat from a patient often intensified quickly, frequently resulting in security having to intervene. In addition, providers sometimes used firm language toward other team members during tense situations, such as when front office staff wanted to add a walk-in appointment into an already crowded schedule. These interactions eroded trust and communication, creating even more of a hotbed for escalations and incidents.

Dr. Lerner observed that the common connection among these challenges was that Eisner Health’s staff members needed more support and tools to navigate stressful circumstances and conversations, as well as skills to help manage those feelings in themselves and their patients.

Dr. Lerner recalled the conference presentation she saw and recognized that TIC could be a way to address these issues on a deeper level and in a sustainable way. Many Eisner Health employees live in the chronically stressed communities that the organization serves, and all staff naturally bring life experiences and stressors to the workplace. By providing more knowledge about stress and tools for managing it, Dr. Lerner hoped Eisner Health could better support its staff, build internal resilience, and improve employee wellness.

As Brene Brene has said, “stories are data with a soul.”

In our recently published project paper, which was a collaboration between Origins and Eisner Health (funded by ACEs Aware), we share the lessons learned from Eisner Health’s experience implementing trauma-informed care, a process that formally began in 2018.

One of these lessons learned was the importance of knowing your “why” (a high-level vision or purpose) before beginning. For Dr. Lerner, her “why” was clear: to better support staff wellness and stress management in order to reduce escalations and improve the patient experience. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the challenges Eisner Health was already feeling and reinforced the importance of pursuing this plan.

Clearly defining this “why” set the tone for Eisner Health’s TIC implementation and laid a strong foundation for long-term sustainability.

As said by an Eisner Health team member “When we take care of ourselves, that’s when we can provide the best care for others.”

Other top lessons include the critical role of organizational culture, the importance of buy-in, the value of creating a shared language throughout an organization, and recognizing the role of TIC as a foundation for ACE screening.

Sprinkled throughout the paper are stories that capture these and other lessons.

To learn more and download a free copy of this paper, CLICK HERE.

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Lori Chelius is a co-founder of Origins Training & Consulting. Origins helps health care professionals, social service workers, educators, and other leaders integrate a trauma-informed approach into their work so they can build more resilient organizations and communities. She lives in California with her wife, three kids, and their dog, Oliver. Learn more about Origins’ and its online training offerings at www.originstraining.org.

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