At Brightview Senior Living, associate health and wellness has long been part of the company’s culture. As Brightview’s Wellness Manager for the past ten years, Jessica Sheffield, MPH, CHES, has helped build a solid system to support associates in all aspects of their health. With the challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, that support system has become more necessary than ever.
At Brightview, there are two sides of associate wellness – incorporating wellness into the Brightview culture and taking a proactive and preventive approach to managing health insurance benefits. Sheffield leads associate wellness campaigns and works closely with the benefits team to maintain a generous benefits package at an affordable price. Much of her educational initiatives have focused on keeping associates healthy and preventing chronic conditions. “We want our associates making healthy choices, and we want to be a company that offers opportunities to be healthy,” Sheffield said.
That strong history of corporate wellness played to Brightview’s advantage when the pandemic struck. “Our ten-year foundation of associates trusting our messaging and knowing that our company truly cares about them helped us respond to what was going on in the world,” Sheffield said.
Soon into the pandemic, associates began reporting feelings of grief, uncertainty, loss, and fatigue. Brightview caregivers on the front line felt the brunt of stress, fear from residents and their families, and more. “The pandemic brought months and months of constant change, new protocols, and evolving regulations,” Sheffield said. “Having to constantly adapt while maintaining personal health and safety in addition to keeping residents safe, healthy, and emotionally supported takes its toll.”
Brightview acted quickly to support its associates with added benefits such as hero pay, food pantries, and additional hires to assist fatigued teams. Equally as important, Brightview recognized the need to support mental wellness for their associates. Simply acknowledging and naming the mental toll was helpful for many people, according to Sheffield. “We need to acknowledge it’s okay to not be okay,” she said. “You are on the frontlines, we see you, and we support you, and we have resources for you.”
To address the mental stress associates faced, Brightview worked with its Employee Assistance Program partner BHS to bring counselors onsite to almost all 42 communities. Associates could meet with counselors in person or join a counselor-led support group, including opportunities to join virtual groups. Sheffield also points to the creation of relief teams to encourage and support associates taking PTO as another mental health initiative.
Brightview developed a Roadmap to Mental Well-Being as a framework for supporting associates during and after the pandemic. The Roadmap’s framework has four components: acknowledgment, talking and sharing, self-care, and prioritization. Time has been dedicated in department and community meetings specifically to discuss the implementation of the Roadmap. Sheffield also leads short, weekly meditation sessions to give associates a set time for a quick mental check-in. Brightview’s spring wellness campaign is also centered on mental and emotional wellness.
For those looking for a quick recharge of their mental health, Sheffield recommends deep breathing. “It’s so simple, but when we take a deep breath, it really does change the physiology of the body, alter the central nervous system, and activate the relaxation response,” Sheffield explains.
One of Sheffield’s favorite breathing exercises is five-finger breathing. Holding out one hand, take your other pointer finger and put it on the base of your thumb. Breath in while slowly running your finger to the top of your thumb. Pause at the top and then breath out while slowly tracing the other side of your thumb. Continue this exercise along your whole hand, and then work your way back to your thumb. This exercise takes only a minute or two and engages multiple senses to bring you back to the present moment.
Meditations, using PTO, and discussing stressors with support systems are all examples of mental self-care. As Sheffield points out, taking care of associates’ mental health is not only good for business, but it’s simply the right thing to do. “It’s common sense: if your associates are stressed and burnt out, they can’t perform at their best, and every aspect of the business suffers,” Sheffield said.
She credits Brightview leadership with remaining supportive of associates during what hopefully was the hardest year the industry will have to endure. The company maintained its benefits and even invested in additional resources when others cut positions and reduced benefits. “Brightview was amazing at reassuring us from the very beginning they would continue to put their people first and do everything possible to protect both their associates and residents,” Sheffield said.
Brightview Senior Living builds, owns, and operates award-winning vibrant senior living communities in eight states along the East Coast: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. We offer senior Independent Living, Assisted Living, Enhanced Care, and Wellspring Village®, a specialized neighborhood for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Schedule a personal visit to experience our communities firsthand.