New York, NY – New York’s workers are the heart and soul of our community. Over the past two decades—and especially during the last six months—they have sacrificed so much to keep New York safe, healthy and operating. Working around–the–clock on the frontlines of the pandemic and risking their own lives and exposure to COVID-19, it’s no surprise many of these brave men and women are now experiencing stress, anxiety, and fear.
As Medical Director of the EmblemHealth Occupational and Environmental Medicine health care facility in New York, I am proud to be part of a team of one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health insurers. EmblemHealth has an 80-year legacy of serving frontlineworkers across New York. Before the pandemic, we worked every day to help working people maintain a healthy lifestyle and receive quality care for themselves and their families. Our work continues to this day, but these are not normal times.
Through EmblemHealth, I lead a team of dedicated healthcare workers at an occupational and environmental health practice which provides care to many essential workers. Throughout the pandemic, my team and I have worked with first responders and other frontline workers who continue to provide service to our communities every day and without complaint. Though committed to their communities, it is understandable that given the responsibility of being on the front line and attending to persons in need of medical services, these activities are, at times overwhelming, and instill certain levels of fear and anxiety. Working in essential fields, like health care and municipal services is rewarding but at the same time difficult and stressful. Providing service during a pandemic is significantly more stressful.
We are seeing fears among patients of exposure to the virus andconcerns about bringing the virus home to family members and loved ones. We’re hearing them recount the trauma of their highly stressful jobs, which often involve treating, transporting and assisting New Yorkers who are sick or in distress. Some of our patients and clients are also feeling insecure about job stability, loss of income, and maintaining their families’ health coverage during this time of uncertainty. Many of our clients and patients are able toexpress their feeling, but it is clear that these stressors have physical and mental health effects as well.
These experiences and feelings can often result in unhealthybehaviors, including overeating, under-eating, increased anger and irritability, and substance use disorders. In many cases, frontlineworkers are also experiencing sleep disruption, depression and anxiety and other issues attributable to forms of Post-TraumaticStress Disorder (PTSD). All these behaviors have major consequences on mental and physical health and may manifest in increased difficulty in managing chronic health conditions (including, but not limited to hypertension, diabetes and other metabolic conditions, neurological and musculoskeletal conditions and depressed immunity).
As the pandemic continues to put pressure on all of us, andespecially essential workers, we know it can also impact job performance. Diminished focus and insufficient sleep can cause an individual to be less willing to cooperate with others. Even worse, itcan lead to mistakes and increase the likelihood of workplace injuries, ultimately risking the safety of that individual, their colleagues, and possibly others.
At EmblemHealth, we offer resources and services that can help protect the health and safety of New York’s workers. We encourageCity of New York employees and union members to schedule regular wellness check-ups with their primary care physicians.Through EmblemHealth’s HMO Preferred Plan, offered exclusively to City of New York employees, members can also access health coaching and a concierge phone line to address their concerns.
Now more than ever, it’s important to offer services that can create better outcomes for the communities we serve. By providingresources and offering wellness programs for workers, it makes it easier to incorporate healthy mental and physical routines into daily schedules. For more information on EmblemHealth’s plans and resources for New York’s municipal employees and labor unions, visit emblemhealth.com.
Dr. Sheila Butler is a practicing physician who serves as the Medical Director of EmblemHealth’s Occupational and Environmental Health Center.