Photo courtesy TTUHSC El Paso

TTUHSC El Paso receives emergency grant to help COVID-19 Front-Line Health Care Professionals

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso has received a $210,000 emergency grant from The Meadows Foundation to provide timely community outreach and resources to front-line health care professionals and community members leading the battle against the COVID-19 surge in El Paso.

COVID-19 cases in El Paso skyrocketed in November, resulting in the U.S.-Mexico border community becoming one of the worst hotspots in the country. Local hospitals have seen capacity limits throughout this timeframe, and nearly 1,400 outside health care workers have been sent in to help with the crisis.

“Front-line health care professionals at TTUHSC El Paso have borne the brunt of COVID’s devastation for almost a year,” said Peter M. Miller, President and CEO of The Meadows Foundation. “Not surprisingly, it has taken an enormous toll on mental health and wellbeing. We are honored to be able to provide this grant in gratitude for their care of our community.”

It’s been more than 9 months since front-line professionals have been battling the pandemic. They are experiencing mental and physical exhaustion as they serve the El Paso community. The emotional toll of trying to keep their own families safe and the loss they are experiencing can be overwhelming. Private donations from organizations like The Meadows Foundation is an infusion of resources at a critical time.

The grant funds will be used by TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry to provide mental health and wellness services to front-line health care professionals and expand psychiatric consultations at the El Paso Convention Center, which has been set up as an alternate care site for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

Melanie Longhurst, Ph.D., M.Ed., a TTUHSC El Paso assistant professor and clinical psychologist with Texas Tech Physician of El Paso, said the project will provide support and wellness resources to faculty and staff members at TTUHSC El Paso and TTP El Paso and its partners at El Paso Children’s Hospital, University Medical Center of El Paso and The Hospitals of Providence.

Officials share that these services include virtual wellness support sessions, videos providing wellness tips and a wellness tent. The department is also working on a partnership with Emergence Health Network to help with these initiatives.

The department has already begun live wellness sessions for students, residents, fellows, employees and staff. There will also be separate sessions for employees at UMC, El Paso Children’s Hospital and The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus.

The one-hour virtual sessions will offer wellness tips, meditation and an opportunity for workers to share their experiences and learn about coping mechanisms. Dr. Longhurst said they provided similar sessions at the beginning of the pandemic, and thanks to the timely funding from The Meadows Foundation, the department can resume offering more extensive resources.

The Department of Psychiatry will manage the wellness tent, available to front-line health care professionals at TTUHSC El Paso, TTP El Paso, UMC and El Paso Children’s Hospital. The workers can take breaks inside the tent, which has a soothing atmosphere designed to let visitors experience a calm environment away from the hospital. 

“Even if you’re taking a break in the hospital, you’re still surrounded by a stressful environment. It really does impact how we feel, so aesthetics are important in this case,” Dr. Longhurst said of the need for a wellness tent. “When workers are in a hospital setting, it’s difficult to decompress. We want to make the tent as accessible as possible and provide a mental escape from their work environment. It will give them a chance to recharge before getting back to work. Even a 15-minute break can make a difference in their mental wellness.”

As El Paso’s COVID-19 numbers have surged, front-line health care professionals have been working tirelessly, but those workers also need support, said Peter Thompson, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry at TTUHSC El Paso and TTP El Paso. Officials say the goal is to have all these services available by the end of December and continue them through the spring.

Dr. Thompson said the data from JAMA Psychiatry, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal, shows that many health care providers in China experience depression, anxiety and distress. To help prevent these problems in El Paso the wellness initiative is designed to give workers a healthy outlet for stressful life.

“We want to prevent our health care professionals from having depression, anxiety, or maybe even prevent PTSD they may develop from seeing people die every day,” Dr. Thompson said. “The treatment of COVID-19 has many different levels. You have the workers who are in the ICU, but you also need specialized staff to support them, so they can continue to do their job and treat patients. We want to provide that support.” 

The Department of Psychiatry will also provide consultations at the El Paso Convention Center and to community members.

Dr. Thompson said his team wants to make sure COVID-19 patients with chronic or mental illness are taking their prescribed medications and have regular consultations. The Department of Psychiatry is working with health care providers at the center to assess what kind of help patients need.

A portion of the grant was also leveraged by The Meadows Foundation as a $50,000 match in support of community outreach efforts. The goal is to raise the $50,000 in the next month to receive the match and dedicate $100,000 to the grassroots efforts in working with neighborhoods in underserved areas that have experienced disproportionate rates of COVID-19.

Educational resource kits with face masks, testing information, and hand sanitizer will be distributed to the community by promotoras, bilingual health care advocates. Those projects, as well as an educational marketing campaign, are still in need of funds.

To support these projects, contact Craig Holden in TTUHSC El Paso’s Office of Institutional Advancement at 915-215-4850.

The Meadows Foundation, a Texas-based philanthropic organization, was established in 1948 by Algur H. and Virginia Meadows to benefit the people and state that had been so generous to them. The Foundation has disbursed more than $1.25 billion to 3,600 organizations and agencies across Texas in the arts and culture, civic and public affairs, education, health, and human services.