Stress experienced by nurses as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic was a main driver of the formation earlier this year of the New Jersey Nursing and Emotional Well-Being Institute, made possible through a one-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It's not just about tending to nurses' immediate post-pandemic needs, according to NJ-NEW director and Rutgers School of Nursing executive vice dean Sue Salmond, but setting them up for long and successful careers once the coronavirus has definitively faded.

The goal is to advance well-being and increase resilience, or the ability to bounce back from stressors, and Salmond said such treatment cannot wait, either individually or within healthcare organizations where systemic problems may need to be fixed.

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NJ-NEW is now promoting a package of five programs for New Jersey nurses to utilize, to help not only them, but also to "get more people to understand how one moves from being stressed, to having a stress injury, to really having a stress clinical diagnosis," according to Salmond.

Virtual Schwartz Rounds offer an online space where nurses can meet and share the challenges they have faced in the last two years, including the burden of dealing with death and dying, and managing both isolation and incivility from the public.

Stress First Aid Train the Trainer, which Salmond said is derived from a model originally used for Navy combat officers, currently has almost 40 participating organizations with another 20 lined up to train. It focuses on taking workers' "vital signs" of stress and emphasizes problem-solving instead of letting issues build to the point where they are unmanageable.

NJ-NEW will serve as the lead organization for coordinating workplace activities recommended in the Future of Nursing report by the National Academy of Nursing, which Salmond said is a more forward-thinking initiative.

"I don't want COVID, or the experience of COVID, to be a barrier to people thinking about entering the profession," she said. "We see a lot of people leaving nursing, and we need to build resilient workplaces so that we have a nursing workforce that is healthy and available to our communities."

The Nurse2Nurse hotline offers confidential peer support, particularly crucial in an era when nurse suicides have been on an alarming rise, according to Salmond.

"For years, we used to talk about the high incidence of physician suicide above the non-physician population. Now, nurses certainly have surpassed that," she said.

And the NJ-NEW Well-Being Hub will be a catch-all for feedback on how different programs have worked, how they've been implemented in different organizations, and what nurses can bring from their personal experiences to the profession in New Jersey as a whole.

All of this, Salmond said, serves to evaluate the culture of a particular healthcare organization, determining whether it is an environment that allows for both patient care excellence and well-being for its workforce.

If both objectives are not being achieved, she said, these five programs aim to close the gap, and acknowledge the value of nursing under the wide umbrella of healthcare.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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