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Buddy System fosters support, friendship among coworkers


Gaby Dorval, Ashlyn Berich and Melissa Olinger, clinical social workers on the NICU and Maternity Unit at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, check in with each other daily to see how they’re doing, at work and at home.

Melissa Olinger, LCSW, has been a clinical social worker on Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for less than a year, but she’s experienced a lot in this short time – including a pandemic. In learning to navigate her new role, she turned to her colleague Gaby Dorval, LCSW, for support and advice.

Clinical social workers in the NICU support families of babies who need extra medical care. In addition to getting acclimated to her position, Olinger was experiencing a mix of emotions she hadn’t before. Leaning on Dorval, who has worked in the NICU for five years, was instrumental in helping her process her feelings.

When the pandemic hit, their clinical social work team started working mostly from home, as well as going into the hospital to cover the Maternity Unit and NICU on separate rotations. Life had changed dramatically.

Knowing the value of having a coworker for support, Olinger and Dorval started checking in on their teammates, including Ashlyn Berich, LCSW, clinical social worker, to see how they were coping with the change in routine.

Shortly thereafter, YNHHS rolled out several programs to support employee well-being, including its Buddy System, which encourages staff in similar roles to pair up, check in daily and help each other promote physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

“We didn’t know it at the time, but Gaby, Ashlyn and I had been using the Buddy System all along,” said Olinger.

“We ask how each other is doing, vent about things,” Berich said. “It’s nice to talk to coworkers who understand your situation. It’s different than talking to people outside of work who might empathize, but don’t really know what you’re going through.”

What began as the Buddy System quickly blossomed into friendship. Now the trio talks daily – during work and outside of work as well. They connect via text, phone or Zoom, depending on the day.

“Not only does having a buddy at work give you a nice layer of support, you never know how it can evolve,” said Dorval. “For me – I’ve gained new friends.”

“At its core, the Buddy System is about connection,” explained Javier Alvarado, director of Social Work, YNHHS. “Social connection is vital to our well-being. The Buddy System was created in alignment with YNHHS’ values of accountability and compassion, and its goal is to instill a sense of caring and responsibility for each other that extends beyond times of crisis.”

“I’m so grateful for my buddies,” said Olinger. “I’d encourage anyone to participate in this program.”

For more information on the YNHHS Buddy System, visit the Employee Wellbeing and Resources page (in network only) or call 203-688-1855.