One organization’s array of COVID crisis wellness initiatives

How the hospital has handled employee well-being amid the worst health crisis in a century.

By Tony Silber      
Northwell Health's wellness tactics

Northwell Health, a network of 24 hospitals in New York State, has responded rapidly to the well-being needs of its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company, based in New Hyde Park, New York, is that state’s largest healthcare provider, with 70,000 employees.

In the months since the crisis emerged, says Pat Flynn, associate vice president of employee wellness, the non-profit employer has built out a wide range of employee services and programs. The company had already emphasized employee wellness, and ramped up its efforts in the last eight months.

These programs, based on two comprehensive employee surveys, include additional personal time off, bonuses, and importantly, employee recognition. The organization has also rolled out a number of innovative services in response to the crises. These include:

  • A database of healthy recipes for stay-at-home workers.
  • A virtual version of an employee walk for health timed to the New York Marathon, which was cancelled in 2020. The walk raised $55,000, which was distributed to employees in need.
  • A YouTube video series for keeping kids healthy during the pandemic. It would get thousands of views for each episode.
  • A 24/7 emotional-support resource call center.
  • Support tents at Northwell facilities where on-shift or workers can speak to counselors.
  • Webinars for helping organizational leaders recognize mental-health issues in employees.

Flynn says with 24 Northwell hospitals, it was a challenge to get the word out about these initiatives. She used her team of wellness liaisons, which she calls a “network of champions,” to spread the word. “We made headway in reducing the stigma around mental health,” Flynn says. “One really popular thing was the call center. It would triage people to whatever they needed.”

In addition, Northwell launched fun activities, such as movies for families. The key, she says, wasn’t just more programs. “We listened to what was important to employees, and we gave that to them,” Flynn says. “The culture you have is what’s going to get you through these turbulent times,” Flynn says.