Amid a national health crisis, Wellstar puts its people first

The Atlanta-area health care system created a culture of well-being by investing in its team members during the pandemic.

Wellstar Health System’s culture has always been “people first,” says president and CEO Candice Saunders. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic is in its third year, and health care workers are faced with burnout and fatigue, Saunders says Wellstar’s ethos of caring has only been amplified.

“Burnout and mental wellness have always been critical issues for healthcare workers across the globe,” Saunders says. “The pandemic has only deepened the need to focus on these issues.” That’s true for Wellstar, which has 11 hospitals in the Atlanta area. Georgia was hit hard by the virus in 2020 and 2021, and Saunders knew that to best serve patients, it was imperative to serve team members, too. 

“We wanted to connect with our team members personally to understand what they needed and make them feel valued,” she says. 

To that end, Wellstar set out to take the pulse of its healthcare team, circulating a confidential survey about team members’ psychological safety and mental health needs. Wellstar used the survey results to shape company-wide changes. In 2021 it launched MyCare Rewards, a program that recognizes team members for their service and reflects each person’s individual well-being needs.  

“Through MyCare Rewards, we’ve offered team members their choice of additional paid time off or a grant of $500 to recognize the profound impact of the pandemic,” Saunders says. The program also offers free access to fitness centers, on-site counseling, and a free subscription to the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. Most notably—and with the support of the Wellstar Foundation—new wellness rooms were installed system-wide, giving team members a quiet, soothing respite with virtual reality, immersive sound, massage chairs, yoga mats, aromatherapy, and more. 

“The rewards system we put in place signals to our team members that we recognize the work they do each day on behalf of our patients, and we know it can be extremely challenging,” says Saunders. 

The response to these additional benefits has been overwhelming: As of January, nearly 6,500 team members have enrolled at one of the 15 Wellstar fitness centers, and several thousand have signed up for Headspace. Although the initiative was implemented to help manage pandemic-related stress, Saunders says it’s here to stay. 

“We’ve seen the impact of these rewards as a ripple effect,” says Saunders. “When we take care of our team members as people, they are better equipped and supported to continue providing compassionate, excellent care to our patients and communities.”