At East Alabama Medical Center, crisis intervention can mean subduing a violent psychiatric patient, consoling the family of a car accident victim in the emergency department or even sending a relief team 3 1/2 hours away to a small town devastated by a tornado. But it can also mean ministering to fellow employees. The hospital's workforce of 2,700 is itself a small town, with its fair share of people trapped in abusive relationships, or thinking about suicide, or dealing with serious illness or a family member's unemployment.
That's how Deborah Owen, EAMC's director of psychiatric services, and Randy Causey, director of support services and safety officer, see it, anyway. Over the years, the pair has thought a great deal about how they can use the hospital's resources to help their co-workers. Together they work with the hospital's chaplain, Scott Lee, to respond to employees' crises, arranging for counseling, shelter, financial support and time off from work they might need.
Often they're responding to a domestic violence situation. Causey, who has served on the board of the local domestic violence shelter for the past eight years, says in a typical month he'll get a couple of calls or visits from co-workers either in physical danger from an abusive partner or estranged from someone who's threatened them. "Or they're at the crossroads of 'I don't know what to do' and may even show up at work with their clothes in the car, saying, 'I don't have any place to go. What should I do?'"
Sometimes Owen, a licensed professional counselor with specialized training in crisis intervention, will get the initial call. "Through the years, people have come to know what Randy and I do and they begin to seek you out," she says.
Owen does the crisis counseling and Causey makes sure the employee has a safe place to stay. The hospital's employee assistance program provides follow-up counseling.
"We work together to ensure [the employee's] safety and the safety of all other employees, and to get her the resources she needs to either make changes in the marriage or get free of the marriage," Owen says.
If the situation warrants it, they'll also confer with a human resources staffer to arrange leave for the employee and tap into the hospital's emergency assistance fund. Called CornerstoneSociety, the fund is "a way of employees consistently giving to meet the needs of other employees," Owen says, "so that if somebody has a house fire, or is suddenly unemployed or can't pay their electric bill, the money is there and administered by a board of employees."
Causey and Owen began working together in the mid-1980s, when Owen was a private practitioner doing daily hospital rounds. If Owen had a patient who was out of control, Causey would respond, and "we just began to work together more and more through the years."
Causey was part of a nine-person response team Owen put together in April 2011 after a tornado devastated tiny Hackleburg, Ala. As soon as they arrived, the team got busy sorting donations of clothing, linens, food and other necessities that came rolling in on trucks, working side by side with some of the victims.
"When we got up there, it was way too early to sit down and talk about what had happened," Owen says. "People were not ready to talk at all. And I was expecting that. So what I [told] the team was to 'just dive in and get to work and we'll work shoulder to shoulder and as people begin to talk, you listen and you can give support as you work.' Work and talk and listen and work. The community really responded to that."
Owen and Causey credit their hospital's CEO, Terry Andrus, for creating an atmosphere that encourages their outreach. "Is our hospital unique? Absolutely it is," says Owen. "Terry's underlying philosophy is, 'Do what's right.' He lives by that, and he has certainly helped his whole organization live by that."
Andrus once backed her up when she refused to release a child to a parent she strongly suspected was physically abusive. "I said, 'Terry, what do you want me to do? I want to refuse to discharge this child.' He said, 'Fine, refuse, that's the right thing to do.' To work in an organization where you know you are safe to do what is right, that's wonderful."