STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success Podcast

As burnout, compassion fatigue, and moral distress continue to affect the health center workforce, the third season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success podcast presents insights, lessons learned, and first-hand experience in navigating and overcoming the challenges of these issues from those working in the field. In this episode, ACU’s Helen Rhea Vernier interviews Sonia Lee, Program Director, Client Services and Grants, and Liam Spurgeon, Senior Project Manager, Communications and Engagement of Health Outreach Partners (HOP) about building organizationally-supported employee self-care for increased resiliency and retention. The resource referenced in this interview, Organizational Self-Care: Addressing the Collective Responsibility for Your Employees’ Wellbeing can be accessed on the HOP website.

Listen to other podcasts in this series.

Full Transcript: Organizational Self-Care for Employee Wellbeing

Helen Rhea Vernier: Welcome to the first episode of the third season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success Podcast series. I’m your host, Helen Rhea Vernier, training specialist at Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, or ACU. This season, we’re focusing on employee self-care and exploring how those in the field are engaging in successful, sustainable, organizationally-supported self-care and the impact that has on retention and recruitment. Today, I’m talking to Sonia Lee, program director, client services and grants, and Liam Spurgeon, senior project manager, communications and engagement of Health Outreach Partners, or HOP. Thank you both so much for being here. Could you introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about HOP?

Sonia Lee: Thanks, Helen. Thanks for having us here. My name is Sonia Lee, program director at HOP. I’ve actually been there for over 10 years, and so I’ve actually seen a lot of the growth and changes that we have had in the organization, good and bad. And just a little bit about who we are, we’re a national nonprofit. We’re based in Oakland, California, but we work with health centers all around the country. Our focus really is on equity as well as access to care and other types of social services, especially for a lot of underserved and vulnerable populations. And we just do lots of different things, trainings, consultations. We create resources. And from that, we’ve really been focused for the last several years around self-care for individuals as well as those in the health workforce, and then expanding upon that and looking at things like organizational self-care. So I think we’ll get into that a little later, but I’ll stop there and turn it over to Liam.

Liam Spurgeon: Thanks, Sonia, and thank you, Helen. My name is Liam Spurgeon, and like you said, I’m a senior project manager of communications and engagement. I’ve been at Health Outreach Partners, or HOP, for over eight years, and we are based in Oakland. And I was born and raised here in the San Francisco Bay Area, as was Sonia. So while we are based in the Bay Area, we do work all over the country, and so we get a really diverse and nuanced view of the different needs, especially of vulnerable populations across the country.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Wonderful. Thank you both so much for introducing yourselves. So what does self-care mean to each of you? Liam, we’ll start with you.

Liam Spurgeon: Yeah. When I think about self-care, the first things that I think about are safety and I think about support. And so I think at its most basic level, a feeling of safety is the vital piece to having a clear mind, an openness and a willingness to, especially in a professional setting, be ready to get work done. And so safety isn’t necessarily just in the sense that we often think of safety, like “Is the building safe,” or “Physically, am I safe from, say, harm or violence,” but also being accepted for who you are, having trust and honesty in your relationships with your coworkers, feeling like you can be yourself and not be judged or have that impact how others are treating you.

Liam Spurgeon: And then only, I think, once safety is established also then can there be support. And so support can both be external, where I feel supported to take care of my needs, I feel supported to get my work done in a way that I feel able, but also that I’m able to support myself in ways that I see fit to make me be the best version of myself that there is. And so that’s where that kind of leads back to self-care that we often think of in some of those more individualized practices, but to me, it boils down to those big two things.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Awesome, thank you. I love that idea of starting from a place of safety. I think that’s a really cool way to think about it. Sonia, what about you? What does self-care mean to you?

Sonia Lee: I call it this process and this building and maintaining this healthy relationship with myself. It’s really about: What do I do to take care of myself? So all of those things to take care of my mind and to take care of my body. So I see those as physical self-care, emotional self-care, spiritual self-care, so it really ranges. So for example, something around self-care, it could be like… I do dance classes, so that makes me happy, bring some joy, has some body movement. But then I also try to get enough sleep, which I struggle at times, but I think that is a form of self-care. I feel like that’s taking care of myself. I try to set up at least 10 minutes in the morning… I have this meditation app, and that kind of helps me just center, have some quiet, and so that kind of gets to that spiritual self-care.

Sonia Lee: So it’s just a variety of things I think I’m hoping or trying to do to really take care of myself. And one thing that I’ve been learning as I go through this whole process of really building a healthy relationship with myself is really tackling that belief that I need to be perfect, and I think that is really important when we talk about self-care. And if you aim to be perfect, then what is perfect, really? Perfect is just very subjective, and is it realistic anyway? I think it often puts obstacles and stops us. And so I think a way for me to also practice self-care is to work with that and understand that, has been something that has really been guiding me for a really long time. And how now do I unlearn some of that and really understand myself, and what I really need, and what works for me?

Sonia Lee: And so I think self-care is this ongoing thing that you need to build, maintain, check in with. Sometimes it’ll change. What will meet your needs now may not later on, so then figuring out what does. And really understanding yourself, which is not an easy process at all.

Helen Rhea Vernier: That’s so beautiful. I love that idea of building a relationship with yourself. And so often we think and talk about how we’re building relationships with others, but prioritizing that relationship with yourself as a starting point is such a cool idea, so thank you so much for sharing. So you mentioned going to dance classes, getting enough sleep, and meditating. Are there any other self-care activities that you engage in, if you don’t mind sharing?

Sonia Lee: Yeah. It’s weird. I drink a lot of water. And I think people who work with me notice that, but the routine of it gives me some kind of comfort if I need to calm down. I have a ritual with… I drink tea every morning, and I look for forward to it. Every evening before I go to bed, I think about, “Oh, yay. Tomorrow I get to prepare my tea,” and I really look forward to that. Another thing that everyone who’s around me now knows: I love K-pop music, and so I just love listening to it. It brings me so much joy because I’m also Korean, so it connects to my culture, being able to sing words in Korean.

Sonia Lee: I think those kind of things, it’s really important to find joy and have fun. So I’m really trying to figure out as part of self-care where I can find that joy and also have fun and be playful and all of that kind of stuff. So enjoying something like K-pop music, you don’t have to be serious about it. You can just enjoy it and understand some people may not understand it, understand you for liking it, but you can just find the joy where you find joy.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. So Liam, if you don’t mind sharing, what are some of your self-care activities?

Liam Spurgeon: I would say my self-care activities have changed a lot during the pandemic as well, because we have been working from home for over a year and a half, and primarily still are working from home. And so I have spent a whole lot of time with myself, and have kind of gone through many phases of activities that make me feel safe and supported and happy, and other things that maybe I thought would, and end up feeling kind of empty, or I’m just going through the motions. And I actually really connected with something you said, Sonia, about checking in on your practices too that are evolving, and that connects back to what we often recommend in some of our projects and when working with health centers of doing quality assurance or quality improvement. That’s an ongoing process, and it doesn’t just end at the end of a project.

Liam Spurgeon: And so where I am now in my self-care journey, especially during the pandemic, is some of the things that have really lasted and I find I have maintained and really maintained the joy in, one thing is cooking. And so not just at night when I don’t have any other plans and I can cook… I still really love doing that, but getting to cook for breakfast and cook for lunch, rather than just trying to run out and buy a quick bagel or something when I’m in the office, and I feel like I have to be tied to my desk as much as possible. And I’ve also really enjoyed gardening and trying to grow food, and like everyone during the pandemic, just kind of throwing my hat in the ring and seeing what I can do successfully and not so successfully.

Liam Spurgeon: And that leads me to another thing I really liked that you said, Sonia, is getting rid of the notion of perfection actually can lead to increased happiness. And I think with both of those activities that I’ve really connected with, I find the lower my expectations, the more joy I get out of them, because I dive in more into the process rather than… If I get these beautiful, amazing tomatoes at the end, or if I make this gourmet meal, rather just the discovery is really the joy that I’ve gotten out of it.

Helen Rhea Vernier: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. I think that’s such a good reminder. I love that you put it within the context of how we do quality improvement within our work and within our world, and I totally resonate with this idea of letting go of the outcome and instead focusing on the process and what joy can come from the process. My next question is: How does HOP as an organization support employee self-care?

Liam Spurgeon: Sonia and I have discussed this quite a bit, about how HOP supports employee self-care. And like we mentioned in our intros, I’ve been there eight years, Sonia’s been there 10 years, and so we’ve seen it grow and change in different ways. And so there are many specific ways that we can list, and we’ve kind of brainstormed a list of some ways that are really small, some ways that are much bigger. So we can go that route as well, but in the end, I think the way that HOP supports employee self-care starts with the acknowledgement that we are all individuals with different individual needs that are not static and that are changing. And rather than naming a specific policy or practice, it’s really just a feeling of support that when things come up for me, when my needs change, when things are urgent, that I will always be supported as an individual, first and foremost, before a cog in this machine of our work.

Liam Spurgeon: And of course, we are a nonprofit working in healthcare, but you would be surprised how many places out there have a really hard time fostering that feeling of support, and not just defaulting to “You are an employee. This is the work. Get it done.” And the way that we’ve grown into that also is a reflection of the quality of our work and the trust that we have for one another. So if Sonia and I are working together on a project, and something happens where I’m not going to get something done by a deadline we’ve set out, we have the working relationship where she knows that we can come up with another plan, or I’ll find a way to get it done, or we can call an audible. So it’s not just the trust and support from one another, but also having that trust and support come from leadership are all kind of the essence that has allowed a lot of the more smaller or the more specific gestures of supporting self-care that HOP does.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Great. Anything you’d like to add, Sonia?

Sonia Lee: Yeah. So I think the way that we look at HOP and how we structure or we organize around self-care is, first of all, just really naming it and being intentional around it. So one of our values… We went through a whole theory of change process where staff gave input. We participated. And one of our values really came out as work-life balance. So something like I say with your own individual self-care practice, an organizational self-care practice is also an evolving, changing process, and you learn from it. So we’re going through that process, but being intentional and saying that this is this collective goal that we have and a collective responsibility of all of us, and the organization there is to offer a structure for it. And so knowing the way that we frame, the way that we look at this is that we want to put our employees first, their wellbeing, as well as understanding that the employees’ wellbeing also helps with your organization’s wellbeing.

Sonia Lee: And you can look at financial sustainability, growth sustainability, all of that kind of stuff. So included in that, I think it really helps that there’s certain things that help to create a more healthy work environment. And when I say that, I’m talking about things like… There’s no micromanagement, so we don’t micromanage at HOP. If you’re interested in micromanagement, our work culture environment is not for you. That we have a lot of flexibility. Even though we have a 40-hour work week, you’re not like, “Hey, you have to sign in at a certain time.” You need to tell people… You’re trusted enough as an adult, as a professional. I think that all helps with creating this healthier work environment. We have generous… If you want to get technical about your vacation. And we also have what we call these annual leave days, or kind of days to reset.

Sonia Lee: And so we’re given six every year, and you’re encouraged to take them. And it’s framed around… We understand that sometimes work can get really heavy and it can get stressful, so we want you to take these days. Or even when we want to take a vacation day… I’ve been there for 10-plus years. I’ve never had a supervisor like balk at me for saying I’m going to go take a two-week vacation. I’ve never had to anticipate having to really fight for my time. And we try to do team building. We do wellness breaks, and we try to make it fun and have everyone participate on designing the types of wellness breaks. They could just be simple walks, or we do things like playing games or crafts, or we do trivia. It can vary, and everyone can be creative about it. And another thing that I really appreciated was… I remember when I was interviewing for HOP, one of the questions that I was asked was: How do you maintain work-life balance?

Sonia Lee: What do you do outside of work? So for me, that was a really important question that obviously has stayed with me, and I see that we’re trying to recognize people as a whole person. That work is a part of you, but it’s not all of you, and you don’t live in isolation just because you work in an office. That doesn’t mean that you’re not a person with other things that are happening in your life. And that speaks back to about when I talk about flexibility, all of that kind of stuff. In terms of do we have a mission statement on self-care, I don’t think we necessarily do. Like I said, we have that theory of change where we have our stated values, and that is something I think we want to work next on, is: Where more can we structure this a little bit more?

Sonia Lee: Do we have a statement? Can we assess the policies that we have and see what is helping to enhance or to really operationalize organizational self-care? And I think some of the things I mentioned are some of the things that we do, but could there be more? Could we have some performance measures based on organizational self-care around your own self-care, all of that kind of stuff? I think those are things that we want to explore next, but I think that we’ve had a good start. It’s been stop and go process and an evolving process, because you learn, you grow from it, you make changes, and I think we’re still trying to refine what it really is.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Thank you so much. I love this recognition our personal self-care… That as we develop organizational supports for self-care, it’s an ongoing process, and we’re constantly developing and evolving that. And then Sonia, you kind of started to touch on this, but what role do you believe leadership plays in supporting and protecting the wellbeing and mental health of their workforce?

Sonia Lee: Leadership plays a huge role. There needs to be buy-in. There needs to be a champion for it, and there needs to be role modeling of it as well. And I think that although we value everyone’s voice equally, we understand that there is a structure there, and there’s certain folks who are designated as major decision makers for the organization. So I do believe that leadership plays a huge role, and we need, I think, a good strategy to move things forward to operationalize, to really change a culture, to build that culture. That you need leadership buy-in, you need them to be champions around it, and you need them to model it. And so oftentimes, self-care can seem almost indulgent at times, and we need a way to just normalize it not just in your workplace and in creating a culture around it. But I think society in general, with this grind culture and the 40-hour work week culture, all of that, we need to normalize that it’s very important, and it’s okay to take care of yourself.

Sonia Lee: And so I can give you an example. The way that our office is set up, it’s all these offices, and there’s some windows, and there’s an open space in the middle, and we got a couch there. And one of it was to encourage folks to move around, get away from their desks, things like that, but also for folks to take a break. But I remember I would never go there to take a break if I was tired, because I would think, “What would people think? They think I’m just wasting my time.” Even though we’ve been talking about it, self-care this, I just felt uncomfortable, so I would never sit on that. And so I think in the beginning, when we first got that couch, I don’t think many people sat on it. And this was something I did bring up, because I was part of a leadership team, and I thought it was really important for our leadership at that time to kind of model, “Hey, I kind of encouraged… Why don’t you go sit down or something over there?”

Sonia Lee: And people might just look at it. And I don’t know what people’s first thoughts were, because it could be like, “Oh look at him slacking off.” Who knows? But I think just little things like that is really important. Leadership needs to take a break and maybe encourage others. Or they’re taking a vacation, and maybe share, “Oh it’s time that I need this break,” or whatever, and just model it and know that others… This goes for supervisors as well, and I think even just as peer colleagues, to model it for each other is really important. But I think because we do function in an organization that has certain structures, certain hierarchies, that I do really push for leadership to really play that role in helping to create that culture, normalizing it, modeling it, championing it, all of that.

Liam Spurgeon: I think that without leadership buy-in, without leadership modeling, then any practice or policy might as well not exist, might as well not be a practice or a policy, because then it’s solely on that individual, and almost sets them up for a potential failure or a potential awkward situation. Or without the acknowledgement and promotion and acceptance of whatever these practices are, it can actually almost lead to the other side. One example that I often point to… We’re in the Bay Area, and a lot of tech companies exist here. And I don’t know when this kind of came to prominence, but some of my friends who started working for these companies told me they don’t have a vacation policy. They have unlimited vacation, which in my mind I thought was incredible. Wow, what this just incredible, overt acknowledgement and support of you taking care of yourself and doing whatever it is that you want to do and need to do.

Liam Spurgeon: But it was kind of a catch-22, because then it became almost this competition of who takes the least amount of vacation. Or if there’s one per person who’s using a policy that’s completely open to them more than others, then it creates an internal resentment among the, we’ll just say lower-level employees, meaning not leadership. Unless leadership is the one who in your supervisor check-ins is saying, “Hey, you haven’t taken vacation for four months or six months. Maybe it’s time to take a break. Or I want to task you with finding some time that you can take some time away,” where it’s almost incumbent upon leadership to require some of those things if they want to actually create the policies or practices that are intended. And so we as an organization have often worked in the realm of health education, and promoted certain health education materials or practices.

Liam Spurgeon: But we realize that sometimes, that can be one of those catch-22s where you’re encouraging certain behaviors or practices from your patients, but not giving them the tools to work with in order to make those a success. And so I think that’s a perfect example of where leadership comes in for self-care practices, is that they can’t just say, “Oh yeah, sure. Go ahead and take care of yourself,” but need to give staff the tools in order to create healthy and beneficial self-care practices. So it’s really incumbent upon leadership to create those tools and create a space in which staff feels supported and comfortable in engaging in the self-care that they need, as well as organizationally maintaining that culture.

Sonia Lee: And can I just add to that? I think ideally, you want leadership to really believe in it too, not just say, “Oh, this is a policy we have in, so I’m just going to try to enforce it.” I mean, that’s great. It’s there, but you really want them to really buy into it and also be practicing it for themselves as well. So you’re hoping that they have a self-care practice and see the value and importance of it, and that it’s coming from an authentic place. And maybe in the beginning, maybe they don’t quite get it yet, but want to move forward because they see the benefits of it for the organization or the health center or for their staff, all of that kind of stuff, but that’s okay. Just continually keep on learning, growing, understanding it. And I said it, it’s all a process.

Sonia Lee: You’ll get to that point, but we want it… Ideally, it’d be great if it’s coming from this authentic place where, “Here, I really do believe in this, and I want others to benefit from it as well.” A colleague of ours, in the former place that she worked, they collectively saw it as a responsibility to protect everyone’s mental health and self-care as well. And so when they were noticing it was getting to a point where maybe it was so much work was going on, you could see burnout signs, you could see all of this, they just called everyone together and said, “We’re noticing this.” And it could be anyone. It wasn’t just leadership. Could be, “I’m noticing this. All of us, we need to reset.” And so they would actually close down for one or two days, which was an interesting concept when she shared that with me. And that it wasn’t just leadership that was making this call, it was everyone together. Someone just might have noticed it and then said, “Hey, let’s get together and talk about this.”

Helen Rhea Vernier: That speaks to this interesting idea of, yes, we need leadership buy-in of course, as you both talked about, and there are lots of ways that that can happen, but we also just need leaders. And anyone can be a leader, no matter your title, and so you can lead in this space without necessarily having that authority. But like you’re saying, to have a culture where one can even do that, there does need to be this leadership in title, buy-in as well. So while conversations around burnout, compassion fatigue, and moral distress have become more commonplace throughout the pandemic, we know that this has been a growing issue in the healthcare workforce for a long time. And you’ve both been kind of getting into this and discussing this, but what can leaders and staff do to keep staff wellness at the forefront of their organization’s mission and values?

Sonia Lee: I think it needs to be intentional. And where does the intention come? It can be in your actions, but also it needs to be part of the structure. And so like I said, one thing could be making that your mission… Not a mission statement, but making a statement around what self-care is. Secondly, I think we’ve mentioned this before to you, that we produce a self-care resource for outreach workers, but after that, really realize that self-care can’t just be an individual responsibility. That within an institution, organization, a health center, things like that, if you really want to support self-care for your employees, that you really need to provide structure and resources and support, and not just make it their individual responsibility. And so in that way, you can come up with some policies or certain practices that you’ve all agreed upon, understand that this is a collective responsibility. Something that’s there that even if whoever was, maybe in the beginning, your one champion, if they’re gone…

Sonia Lee: But it’s still part of the culture. It’s written in some policies. There’s a statement that maybe you can post on walls, something to just keep it on the radar. And then like I think I mentioned before, maybe you have some performance measures. Or when you do employee reviews, even of leadership, some metrics related to organizational self-care, things like that. I think those can’t just depend on one or two folks. We really need to have it be a part of the foundation. And so whether that be through policies, practices, mission statements, or part of other kinds of statements, I think those things really need to be built.

Liam Spurgeon: I think having things that you can refer back to when it comes to any topic is really important, but especially in something that often is treated as more touchy-feely, less professionalized. And when it’s less professionalized, then we don’t treat it with the same weight that we do our day-to-day work. For example, at Health Outreach Partners, each one of us as individuals has our own individual work plans that we set out a plan, we outline how we’re going to accomplish our different projects as project managers, and we go through that and update that and review it with our supervisors. And so similarly around self-care, I think having a self-care plan that is something that formalizes and kind of professionalizes our self-care and can also be reviewed and looked back to, whether it’s just on your own that you can do some of that quality assurance, like we talked about earlier with Sonia… But also, it’s something that as a supervisor, you can show as leadership that you are supporting people’s self-care plans by also holding people accountable to something that should be being practiced anyway.

Liam Spurgeon: Or it should be something that they want to do, but in some of the examples we used earlier might feel guilty doing. Maybe they don’t feel supported doing. Maybe they feel awkward. But with leadership support coming from your supervisor, being modeled from those that are really the decision makers within an organization is really important. And so also having something that is a formally accepted and adopted statement, practice, whatever it is, but having that posted, having that public, having that maybe really public-facing and at the forefront so that you kind of lead with self-care, and really start with self-care. And then one other way that I think we can overlook self-care at an organizational level… Because again, we often put the responsibility on an individual to do their own self-care.

Liam Spurgeon: And we talk about self-care often as individualized practices, but I think within an organization, there are ways that still contribute to self-care that are just within our everyday professional lives, like sticking to deadlines, being explicit about deadlines and sticking to those deadlines, structuring our schedules and creating meetings, but also being aware of when folks are overloaded on meetings or don’t have a gap in between meetings, answering emails in a timely fashion, and answering the questions that are asked of you in those emails, or delivering on those things or explaining why you can’t. Some things that sometimes we struggle with, but as the individual on the other side, it helps create some of that safety and relieves some of the nerves or anxiety or stress around just what is already our day-to-day work that can be overwhelming on its own.

Liam Spurgeon: Finally, the last thing I wanted to mention is when it comes to finances too in an organization, having an openness around finances helps, I think, on an organizational level and from just a feeling within an organization to understand where we are. Having responsible financial practices and being open around your financial practices, I think, can help hopefully foster some safety and security too within just your job security.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Thank you so much. I love that you both shared these sort of bigger ideas as well as those more even just day to day. And thank you, Liam, for bringing up the financial security piece. I think that’s really important, and often gets overlooked, so thank you so much. So my last question for us, and Sonia, you started to mention this, is: Can you tell us about the recently published Organizational Self-Care: Addressing the Collective Responsibility for Your Employees’ Wellbeing resource?

Sonia Lee: I hope that folks can check out this resource. We’re pretty happy about it. Like I said, it really came out of… We developed that self-care resource for outreach workers, but really understanding that we can’t just put it on individuals, especially when we’re talking about in the workplace. So we decided that, “Okay, what do we really need? What can we look at? What do we need structurally?” And that’s where we came with organizational self-care. We didn’t coin that phrase. It was already in existence, definitely. But again, organizational self-care, this resource we produced really is about first defining what it means. It’s a collective responsibility. It’s building this work environment, a healthy work environment together, but it does require leadership and needs buy-in for all of this. And there are different benefits that we lay out for having organizational self-care. It’s happier employees, better retention, quality of work. Because we know when you have something like burnout or compassion fatigue, that sometimes that can be reflected in the quality of your work, or diminishing the quality of your work.

Sonia Lee: And in the end, especially for health centers that are delivering these really important services to these vulnerable communities, it’s really important that the services you provide them are sustainable, that they are there, your resource for the community, and they are of quality. It’s quite an investment. I think you can look into self-care as an investment, but I think there’s a lot that you get in return by investing in that. So the organizational self-care resource defines strategies that you can take on, and one is really about identifying, first of all, the scope of the issue, or maybe even the scope of the problem. Do you have issues around burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, all of that kind of stuff? And understanding what it is, extent of it, and then coming up collectively with strategies in order to address that.

Sonia Lee: And we also do have the piece… We always encourage looking at things through a health equity lens as well, and so understanding things like intersectionality. So understanding that you have all these stressors that come with work, especially in the health workforce, but then add to that someone who is BIPOC, a person of color, and the stresses that they also, in addition to the workforce stresses, think about, things like structural racism and the stressors they face with that. Or when we think about gender or sexual orientation, all of that kind of stuff. So that’s also something that we want to look at and encourage in the resource.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Liam, would you like to add anything?

Liam Spurgeon: Sonia covered it really well. I just want to add a plug for what the resource can be for you at an organization, because it’s full of definitions around self-care and organizational self-care. I think it balances well, creating awareness around it and delivering strategies. But in the end, I think it’s a great piece of evidence for folks that are in positions where they can implement organizational practices to get the evidence or get the arguments that they need to really do that. It’s as timely as ever right now for the obvious reason that we’ve been through this collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 18 months plus, which all of us have experienced, but especially those that are also working so closely with communities, mainly vulnerable communities and communities of color, who’ve been disproportionately impacted. Many people are feeling that trauma at a different level on a different rate, and experiencing a lot of vicarious trauma through the communities they serve.

Liam Spurgeon: So there’s not only a personal and individual spiritual need for these kinds of supports, but there’s also definitely a huge business benefit to it in a lot of the ways that Sonia mentioned. Because right now, all we hear about on the news is workforce and retention, and how everybody out there is hiring and needing folks to work jobs, and jobs where they feel supported and that are good jobs. And so just hearing Sonia mention… Over 10 years ago, she still remembers the question in her interview about how does she create work-life balance, and that is kind of a formal acknowledgement of the importance of self-care. And so when an organization is really practicing self-care at that organizational level, I think it is a huge demonstration to both the current employees and prospective employees that it’s a good place to work and that they’ll be supported. And so building that workforce, increasing retention, decreasing turnover are all things that are in the best interest of any leadership out there, especially at health centers.

Sonia Lee: Yeah. And we know that health centers already have been facing challenges recruiting folks, and especially in those in rural areas. And so I think really thinking about: What can attract people to come and what want to work here? And lots of times, things like this are very important. We know the financial benefits. We know that folks want to be compensated well for the work that they do. But also, you want to work in a happy, healthy work environment. I think that’s a very important thing as well, and feel supported and all the other stuff that we mentioned. So if that’s making another case, I think it’s making a good financial case and sustainability case, if leadership is listening to this, that it is worth an investment.

Liam Spurgeon: And the last thing I’ll add is that the resource is available on our website. It was written by our awesome colleagues, Robyn Barron and Patricia Avila-Garcia. So it’s available on our website for download at, and you can reach out to either of us or our colleagues, Patty and Robyn, who authored it if you want any more info or want to follow up and see what else you can do around this topic.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Thank you so much. And I definitely agree, folks should access this resource. I read it and really loved it. Thank you both so much for your time and for sharing your wisdom and your thoughts, and for coming with vulnerability and authenticity and honesty. I really appreciate that, and it’s just been so lovely to chat with you both. It’s been really wonderful to hear how your organization is supporting this, so I really do appreciate that.

Sonia Lee: I just want to say thank you, first of all, thinking of us and for inviting us. This is a topic that’s really important for us. We wouldn’t do this work if it wasn’t important. And not just for us, but we see how important it is for health centers, for those who work in health centers, the people that they serve, and I would say society in general. And so we’re really excited that you’re focused on this topic, and just appreciate that you reached out to us and had us on.

Liam Spurgeon: We cover a lot of topics at our work, but it is something that I know all of us feel an extra personal attachment to and feel a lot of passion around. And so it’s an honor to be invited to talk about it, because I know that it’s something that we feel like we’re still just barely scratching the surface on. And so we love exploring it more, and really happy to be able to talk about it today.

Helen Rhea Vernier: Thank you very much for joining us today. We hope today’s conversation provided you with ideas, suggestions, and insights into ways that you can approach, encourage, and organizationally support employee self-care, wellness, and resiliency at your organization. Be sure to check out all of our free workforce tools and resources found at