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A Focus On Mental Health with Frank Wiederrecht

Mental and Emotional Health. Usually, that phrase can conjure a series of images or reactions. For the longest time, we've often looked emotions as separate items when working to heal the physical ailments of our patients, or even leading an organization. But in more recent years as a healthcare community we have noted the importance of caring not just for physical needs, but seeing about the mental health of our patients and staff.

We spoke with Memorial Hospital of Converse County's Chief Culture Officer, Frank Wiederrecht, on the importance of recognizing the whole health of a person, the focus on the mental health of the entire organization and how we as a health care community embrace the two: body and mind.

What Are Ways The Hospital Looks At The Whole Person Even When Hiring?

FW: "By and large we have hired providers and nurses at every level that are personable, that do see the person, that will take the time and listen to their patients.

Happy employees give better service. As I sit in on a lot of hiring interviews and observe the applicants, a question I'm continually asking myself, "Is this person happy with life or not?" If they're not they're not happy with their life, then they are not going to be happy in their job. We want people that live on the joyous side of life, who will be happy to work here. Happy employees make happier doctors which lead to satisfied patients. Employees that feel cared for and doctors that feel valued, tend to be able to care for and value their patients better. It's all about valuing people and loving them."

How Does The Hospital Help Foster Emotional Intelligence In Their Staff and Then Carrying That Forward To The Care of Their Patients?

FW: "We teach from the very beginning that we're here to see and listen to our patients. If I'm on the roster to play for the MHCC team, my job is to see and to listen to people. If there's something going on in my life with illness, too much turmoil, or some emergency at home – so much so that I can't see you or hear you, then I need to take my name off the roster and put in a replacement that can be fully present to see and hear you because that's what we're here for."

What Is The Role of the Hospital In Our Community?

FW: "I would say that our job is to deliver excellent care with compassion, every single person in the organization with every single patient that comes in here every single time they come. Unfortunately, there can be variance in that. If a patient comes and receives excellent care with compassion from one provider and then when they see me and I'm a grump, then there's variance. Or if they see me today, and I'm a nice guy, but tomorrow I'm grumpy, then there's variance. We want to try to lower that variance down so that no matter who they see in the organization it'll be the same experience. No matter when they see us it's the same experience. I think we're doing better than we used to. [But} We're far from perfect in that."

Is There Still A Stigma In Our World Regarding Mental Health?

FW: "I think there's still a stigma. The brain is an organ in your body, just like your heart or your liver, but we're still ... I guess it's uncharted territory, by and large, we're afraid of it. Psychiatrists and psychologists are set in another category even by other medical staff. I'd say it's easier and less messy to treat the other bones and organs because when you start dealing with the mind you have all these emotions and thoughts. It isn't just 'take a pill' and you get better. [While] Antidepressants do help, and sometimes various minerals help, like lithium for bipolar depression; by and large, they just deal with symptoms. If you have anxiety or depression you have to go back through talk therapy, you have to figure out what the fears are that are causing the chemical imbalance."

What Types of Mental Health or Behavioral Health Concerns Do You See?

FW: "I see lots and lots and lots of undiagnosed clinical depression, bipolar disorder, the neurosis of many types, personality disorders, and it's just overwhelming. There's not the infrastructure here in Wyoming, or in America in general, or I would even say in the world, to handle a number of issues that people have.

Everybody is carrying baggage, every single one of us. Every single one of us is somewhat broken. We're all a bit neurotic, we're all a bit dysfunctional, it's just a matter of degree. People are asking existential questions all the time. "Am I okay? Am I competent? Am I valued? Am I lovable?" They're looking for love. The world is not necessarily a safe place for most people most of the time. You're made fun of or belittled, or you're not good enough. There are all sorts of messages that say, you're not okay. Like I say, we're all broken. To be that safe person, that safe place, to love them by listening to them, that's what I can offer whether it's here or at church or wherever."

What Does a Chief Culture Officer Do? What Are Your Days Like?

FW: Push the Culture: Obviously, my number one job is to encourage our corporate culture by emphasizing our mission, vision, and culture in every way possible. I sit in on hiring interviews to help ensure we hire people who will personify our values: Competency, Compassion, Ownership, Joy, Respect, Integrity and be Patient-Centered. I also push the values during the general orientation.

Staff Encouragement: Every day I write a little [email] post and it goes out. I just try to focus on helpful thoughts and ideas, anywhere from physical fitness to nutrition to mental health. A lot of attitudes, a lot of emotional intelligence type of subjects, a lot of teamwork.

Team Development: I get called into various teams to help out with teamwork.

Emotional Intelligence: I work with the senior leaders to help them with managing the emotions of the organization and thinking things through about how people will feel if we do this or that.

Counseling: I am not a licensed therapist, however, I do have over 30 years' experience in counseling. So I offer myself as a safe person in the organization. A lot of times people just need a safe person, a safe place by which to process their feelings and their thoughts. I ask pertinent questions and let them talk. After they vent then a lot of times they can come to their own conclusions as to what the next step is, or what they should do, or what's going on with that.

Facilitate Leadership & Staff Development: We have our leadership development institute where we provide training for our managers and directors. And we have our Employee development institute where we bring in national-quality speakers to train and inspire our staff.

For me, being a leader is that you're leading the emotions of your pack, your team or your tribe. It's like being the alpha wolf. If you're the head wolf you have to maintain your own emotions. If you're anxious then the whole pack is going to be afraid ... If you're confident and strong then they look to you and draw strength. They ask, "Is the leader okay?" "Yeah, he's okay." "Well, then we're okay."

Is There A Correlation Between Mental and Physical Health? What Has Been Your Experience?

FW: "What I see in myself and in others is that there's a huge correlation between physical fitness, your diet, emotional health, mental health, and spiritual health – they all meld together. If I'm depressed then I don't feel like going to the gym, but if I don't go to the gym then I tend to get depressed. There's this looping cycle. What experts say and what I experience is that going to the gym and working out is [can feel like the] equivalent of taking antidepressants. Given the modern American diet, our level of inactivity, all these things feed into poor mental health as well."

What Are Some Actual Ways That By Being Patient Centered The Hospital Has Also Taken Into Consideration The Mental Health and Comfort of a Patient?

FW: "There was this gentleman who was an indigent from Texas a couple years ago. Had no family. No friends. Nothing. He ended up at our hospital and under comfort care in an end of life scenario. We didn't know much about him but we figured since he's from Texas, we'd play old time country music in his room. They called me in and I didn't know what faith he had but I prayed for him. In our hospital, no one dies alone. At the very end, there were two nurses there by his side.

I'm so proud of the people who work here! I've seen doctors weep at the passing of individuals, I've seen nurses weep. We care! There is love here! You can't buy that. That is not something you hire. That is a calling that it's freely given and I am so proud of that."