Published on July 22, 2022

Schwartz Rounds: Compassionate Care for Our Caregivers

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“Providers don’t always talk about their emotions, but the Schwartz Rounds provide a safe, confidential space to talk about specific topics,” says Peggy Holtz, Mission and Spiritual Care Manager at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. “It was beautiful to see them relax and just start talking.”  

Created during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Wellbeing was established to develop a strategy to enhance the culture of wellbeing throughout Essentia Health. Focusing on the human dimension of health care, one of the department’s first initiatives was the implementation of Schwartz Rounds.

From administrative responsibilities to the day-in and day-out stress of caring for critically ill patients and their families and more recently, the lingering pandemic, health care providers are often anxious and frustrated.  The Schwartz Center Rounds program offers regularly scheduled, dedicated time to discuss social and emotional issues that play a key role in caring for patients.  Led by a panel of skilled facilitators, caregivers have an opportunity to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings on compelling topics from real cases.  Schwartz Round sessions can strengthen the caregiver-patient relationship and often remind providers why they entered the healthcare profession in the first place. 

After listening to brief presentations, caregivers in attendance are invited to share their own perspectives on the topic and related issues (patient identifiers are omitted to protect confidentiality). 

Peggy Holtz, Mission and Spiritual Care Manager at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd, facilitated the inaugural session “Keeping Joy in the Midst of Compassion Fatigue” at St. Joe’s.  “Providers don’t always talk about their emotions, but the Schwartz Rounds provide a safe, confidential space to talk about specific topics,” says Peggy.  “It was beautiful to see them relax and just start talking.” 

Piloted at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1997, the program is now offered in hundreds of healthcare sites across the country.  At those sites, health care providers experienced increased insight into the social and emotional aspects of patient care as well as increased feelings of compassion toward patients and families.  Results also included improved teamwork, interdisciplinary communication, appreciation of colleagues from different disciplines and decreased feelings of stress and isolation – all leading to enhanced patient care.

Essentia Health – Duluth also recently held their first Schwartz Rounds session, “The Patient I Will Never Forget.”  Stacey Jutila, Director Chaplaincy Services, Essentia Health – East says, “We wondered if people would participate, and it turns out people are hungering to share.” With a remarkable turn-out of 274 associates, Rev. Jutila was surprised by the multiple disciplines that participated and shared.  In addition to clinical providers, associates from a variety of departments including finance, facilities and IS (information services) attended the virtual forum.  Commenting on the turn-out Rev. Jutila says, “It was so satisfying to see that employees throughout the hospital identified that they connect to patient care.”

The Foundation’s support has allowed Essentia Health to become a member of The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare.  In addition to conducting Schwartz Rounds, membership includes training, site visits and opportunities to learn from and network with compassionate care leaders from other organizations.  Thanks to the generosity of the Essentia Health Foundation, Essentia is the only hospital north of Minneapolis providing Schwartz Rounds. 

With a goal of launching the program in each of Essentia’s 14 hospitals this year, Schwartz Rounds are scheduled in Fargo and the I-35 corridor next.  Ultimately, the Office of Wellbeing hopes to hold quarterly sessions at each hospital and conduct smaller sessions within specialized units to address specific circumstances.

The sessions encouraged some individuals to continue conversations privately with facilitators and chaplains.  “This is another way for us to let our colleagues know we care about them, their mental health and that they are not alone,” says Peggy Holtz.  “I am so blessed to lead this program at Brainerd.  When you see people heal, it’s wonderful to be a part of it.”

“Compassion matters!  Stories attached to caring for people matter, and having a sense of community, connection, and a place to reflect matter,” says Rev. Jutila.  “The Office of Well Being is so grateful for the Foundation's support – this is such an inspirational program.”

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