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Case Study

How Henry Ford stood up a peer-to-peer emotional support program

15 Minute Read


The challenge

During the Covid-19 pandemic many healthcare workers experienced feelings of isolation due to social distancing and furloughs, worsening existing burnout and emotional distress. Though many healthcare workers want to seek support from their peers, without a formal structure in place, such conversations can be difficult to initiate. Additionally, the act of seeking emotional support often comes with an attached stigma, particularly in the health care space: this discourages many clinicians from reaching out for help.

The organization

Henry Ford Health System is a not-for-profit, 6-hospital health system with over 30,000 employees based in the Detroit metro area. It includes a number of medical centers, as well one of the nation’s largest group practices, Henry Ford Medical Group.

The approach

To combat isolation and normalize the act of seeking emotional support, Henry Ford stood up their in-house “Stronger Together Buddy Program.” Buddies receive weekly emails that include a “wellness teaching” grounded in well-being best-practice and a “challenge” to complete with their buddy. These challenges provide staff with a platform to have meaningful conversations with their peers and give them a foundation to form mutually supportive relationships.

The result

Henry Ford conducted a survey of the participants after the buddy program’s first 12 weeks. The vast majority of participants reported that they found value in the program and enjoyed the weekly emails and challenges. Comments showed that many are grateful to have a meaningful relationship at work and wish the program to continue even after the pandemic.



How Henry Ford stood up their peer support program through targeted resource investment

Henry Ford’s peer support program is run solely by their Director of Physician Wellness, who saw the need for peer connections to combat the isolation of the pandemic. Standing it up was simple—all it took was a platform to organize participants, a well-rounded wellness curriculum, and a way to regularly advertise the program to staff.


The four principles

The success of Henry Ford’s peer-to-peer support program is based on these four main principles:

  • principle

    Identify a key wellness champion to break down siloes

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    Build a curriculum that reflects a diversity of well-being needs

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    Embed peer touchpoints into employee workflow

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    Empower staff to tailor program to their own needs

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Success of Henry Ford’s buddy program among participants

Henry Ford surveyed the participants after the program’s first 12-week cycle. The results were incredibly positive—the majority of participants found value in the program and want it to continue after the pandemic.

As the program expands in size, there is active discussion around introducing automation into the scheduling and communication processes.

Buddy program opens the door for those seeking emotional support

The buddy program has also opened doors for staff who are struggling and need additional emotional support. Another participant reached out personally to Dr. MacLean asking for additional help, and she reminded this employee of the many other emotional support resources available through Henry Ford.

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