Supervisors propose mental health program for healthcare workers

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors called for the formation of a program to support the mental health of over 9,000 healthcare workers at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (VMC) who have been impacted by the pandemic.

The Board unanimously directed County Administration to return to the Board on August 16 with a plan for implementing a mental health and wellness program for Valley Medical Center employees.

Supervisors have asked County Administrators to identify potential state and federal funding sources to support the proposed program. Implementation of the program is targeted for fall 2022.

The proposal was brought forward by Supervisor Simitian and Board colleague Cindy Chavez. The Board cited studies showing the impact the pandemic has had on mental health workers, some of whom are considering leaving the profession as a result. A survey by Mental Health America showed 86 percent of health care workers experienced anxiety, 76 percent experienced exhaustion and 75 percent were overwhelmed.

Poor mental health among medical workforce leads to staffing shortages and turnover, according to studies in the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that almost one-third of healthcare workers are considering leaving the profession.

Staffing shortages have long existed at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and its struggles to hire and retain workers have only been exasperated by the pandemic, officials said.

“We depend on health care professionals for the health and safety of our community, especially during times of crisis. But it’s important to recognize the really significant mental health challenges facing these very same employees even before the pandemic,” said Supervisor Simitian.

With suicide rates among nurses on the rise, “it is essential that the County assists them in accessing mental health support services, so they can continue to care for the health of the community,” added Jennifer Hughes, vice president of the Registered Nurses Professional Association.

Simitian said he hopes to implement a mental health program for healthcare workers that “serves as a model for improving the health and wellness of employees throughout the County.”