One recent morning at 7, Dr. Eric Wei gathered the emergency room staffers at NYC Health and Hospitals/Harlem in a tight circle. Perched on plastic seats and rolling desk chairs, the doctors and nurses had just completed a 12-hour overnight shift. Instead of asking them to evaluate patient care, the public health system's chief quality officer wanted them to confront the grief and trauma that are part of a day's work in a busy urban hospital.
A week earlier, on March 22, the team had fought mightily to save the life of a local firefighter. They didn't succeed. Michael Davidson, 37, died of smoke inhalation, according to the city medical examiner, after battling a five-alarm fire on St. Nicholas Avenue in the basement of a building being used as a film set.
The firefighter's death prompted Wei to hold one of the health system's first sessions under the new Helping Healers Heal program. Modeled after an initiative pioneered at University of Missouri Health Care and later implemented by Wei in Los Angeles, it aims to help the so-called second victims of a traumatic event—doctors, nurses and other staff members who interact with patients—and provide them with follow-up support.