A mental health message from Division Chief Nursing Executive: “It’s okay to not be okay”

House damaged by tornado

Since January 19, when the first U.S. coronavirus case sent shockwaves across the country, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and other healthcare workers have been on the frontlines of COVID-19.  Day in and day out, caregivers courageously suit up in personal protective wear (PPE) to take care of their patients and communities. As the pandemic surges this December, there is hope as many frontline workers receive the first allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite the hope that the vaccine brings, the ever-evolving and demanding COVID-19 environment – coupled with cultural events and natural disasters in 2020 – has created unprecedented mental health challenges for healthcare workers. A JAMA Network Open study about mental health among 1,257 healthcare workers in China treating COVID-19 patients reported depression, anxiety, distress and insomnia, especially women, those in Wuhan and frontline workers. More recently, according to a July study by researchers at North Carolina State University, U.S. healthcare workers are struggling with a multitude of health care challenges during the pandemic and are at greater risk than the general public of experiencing health concerns such as depression.

Below, veteran nurse Dr. Zach Mueller, division chief nursing executive for HCA Healthcare’s North Texas division, shares a powerful and personal narrative to promote awareness, acknowledgement and support of the emotional and mental health needs of our caregivers and colleagues during this time. “We care for people all the time, but it took me several months to know I needed help,” said Dr. Mueller. “It is okay to get help and they (caregivers) need to feel okay to get help if they need it.”

By: Dr. Zach Mueller, division chief nursing executive for HCA Healthcare’s North Texas Division

On October 20, 2019, my life changed in a way I will never forget—an EF3 tornado with winds approximating 145 miles per hour struck our home while my family and I were inside. According to news reports, it was the strongest twister to hit Dallas since 1976. The direct hit destroyed our home and nearly took our lives. To say it was a horrifying experience is an understatement. As a result, I have struggled with anxiety, fear, and flashbacks due to post-traumatic stress.

Collage of photos showing a house and street damaged by a tornado
An EF3 tornado, with winds approximating 145 miles per hour, destroyed North Texas Division Chief Nursing Executive’s home on October 20, 2019.

In my nearly 17 years with HCA Healthcare, I had never accessed our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). But this year, I did. And, I want you to know is that it’s okay not to be okay. Like many of you, I work out to promote my physical health, use prayer for my spiritual health, and positive relationships for my emotional health. Now, I see a counselor for my mental health as well.

Research has shown that compassion alleviates suffering. My heart is full of gratitude for the support and compassion I have received from my work family throughout this tragedy. You have been incredible—an exquisite example of how we care like family. In that spirit of family and support, I challenge all of us to overcome any thoughts of stigma or weakness associated with seeking help. In this season – show compassion to ourselves, each other, and our community by prioritizing mental health.

To take care of our patients, we must work as a team, take care of ourselves, and find ways to rejuvenate. Now, more than ever, it’s vital.  In the coming year, we will champion ways to find wellness of all types. In addition to EAP, we have our Nurse Care line and many more resources available to help you take care of yourself.

Thank you for your incredible service to our community throughout this challenging COVID-19 pandemic. I continually hear and witness your excellence in delivering compassionate, clinically expert care to our patients. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here to stay for a while, so I challenge you to show yourself (and others) some compassion and gratitude this holiday season—so that we can continue to provide excellence, always.

With a Grateful Heart for Your Excellence, 

Dr. Zach Mueller, DNP, RN, NEA-BC
Division Chief Nursing Executive
Medical City Healthcare

Man wearing suit and tie. Headshot of Dr. Zach Mueller.
Dr. Zach Mueller, North Texas Division Chief Nursing Executive, Medical City Healthcare

Caregiver and colleague wellness resources

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we devised a convenient Caregiver and Colleague Wellness page, available on our organization’s intranet, where colleagues can access resources and tools for mental well-being, newsletters, videos, upcoming events and more. Colleagues are also eligible for the HCA Healthcare Healthy Living Program featuring resources and tools for mental well-being, family and household (including resources for center-based and in-home child care), finances, overall health, diversity and inclusion and time away from work. Some of these resources include:

Nurse Care: a unique, free and confidential mental health program for the needs of HCA Healthcare hospital-based nurses. The resource is available 24/7 to help them manage anxiety, balance their work and life responsibilities, practice self-care and handle common nursing related issues. Nurse Care is available by calling (800) 480-1234.

PsychHub: a free COVID-19 mental health resource hub, created by a national mental health coalition to meet the mental health needs of individuals during this pandemic. The online collection includes visual resources for maintaining your well-being and coping with mental health concerns during a global pandemic.

Beacon Health Wellbeing Program: a program where colleagues can schedule confidential in-person, phone or video call sessions with a licensed counselor. Colleagues receive five no-cost sessions per issue for each qualifying family member. Learn more by calling (800) 434-5100.

Bright Horizons Care Advantage: free and unlimited access to programs to support colleagues looking for a babysitter, nanny, support for a special needs child, elder care provider, dog walker or housekeeper.

Doctor on Demand: a telemedicine app currently free for all colleagues and their dependents that connects you with board-certified physicians via video on a smartphone, tablet or computer. In addition to colds, sinus infections and skin and eye conditions, physicians can also provide care for anxiety, depression and stress.

American Nurses Association COVID-19 Resource Center: free access to tools that support the mental health and resilience of nurses by the American Nurses Foundation.

The HCA Healthcare Hope Fund also offers cash grants to help our colleagues during times of crisis. Colleagues can submit an application for monetary support to assist with needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic at or by phone at (877) 857-HOPE.

If you or someone you know is feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, we urge you to contact one of the below crisis resources for help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” TO 741-741
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat (Online live messaging):

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 182 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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