Rx for Nurse Burnout: 'Stress First Aid' Delivers Relief and Mental Health Support

July 19, 2023


To combat nurse burnout and prioritize their mental health and well-being, BayCare has been selected by the American Nurses Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Nurses Association Enterprise, to participate in a three-year pilot project known as “Stress First Aid” (SFA).
Originally developed by the U.S. military to help Navy and Marine Corps service members dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), SFA has now been adapted for use by health care workers.
“The program is all about how to recognize stress within your team members. Unlike other programs or resources through the Employee Assistance Program where it's a one-on-one approach, this is more team member support where you're helping each other as a team,” Rocky Hauch, the program champion and BayCare’s advanced nursing educator, explained. 
SFA encourages healthcare professionals to better understand and confront their trauma by engaging in open conversations about their emotional well-being. The program also equips nurses with the necessary tools to navigate and manage the intense stress they face in their demanding roles.
As the patient care leader on the neuro and neurosurgical floor at St. Joseph's Hospital, Ashley Melendez knows firsthand the pressures and burdens faced by our dedicated caregivers.
“Our profession teaches us to suppress our emotions and our feelings, and we focus more on caring for others. But you can't care for others with an empty cup,” Melendez said. “A lot of nurses do not reach out for help. And the impact is significant, not only at work but in our daily lives with our spouses, our families, our kids, everything. It is so important that we learn how to cope with what we face daily to help us take better care of the public.”
The SFA system utilizes a visual approach, employing a universal color code for assessing an individual's stress experiences. Nurses can identify their emotional state using one of the four colors; green represents a healthy state, yellow signifies they are feeling irritable and stressed, orange represents distress, and red indicates a mental disorder. The key to SFA is recognizing when someone is struggling and empowering nurses to initiate conversations about mental health in a more natural and stigma-free manner.
“I can already tell you that it’s really helped me. I can call the other principal investigators in the program, for example, and tell them I'm in the orange zone, we need to talk. They’ll know where I am mentally and how to help. We have a common language now to talk about our stress,” Hauch added.
BayCare is one of four organizations nationwide who have implemented the Stress First Aid trainings. The program launched in April, and about 120 team members throughout 3 Main and 3 North at St. Joseph’s Hospital have participated in the program so far. 
According to Hauch, as the program gains momentum, the goal is to fine tune it and expand it to two other units by 2024.
“I feel very proud to be a part of this. This is a topic that I feel we have desperately needed. The nursing team works so hard and we care so much and we truly we deserve to have some attention for our stress as well. So, I'm very thankful,” Melendez said.
To learn more about Stress First Aid through the American Nurses Foundation, visit their website here.