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It was mid-April in New York City, one of the cities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, when the team at Mindful Urgent Care noticed that their patients were suffering.

They had lost their routine and were being bombarded by news of the virus. Patients whose mental health had improved experienced symptoms again.

“We began to wonder: If all these people are feeling the stress, what about the workers on the front lines of the crisis?” said Tamir Aldad, ’18 (XP-87), a psychiatrist and founder of Mindful Urgent Care—a Global New Venture Challenge winning startup that provides affordable, same day mental healthcare.

When Aldad and his colleagues surveyed these workers about their mental health, most said that the pandemic was taking a toll. That’s when Aldad knew that Mindful Urgent Care had to create an outlet for them.

His team launched a free virtual support group to help frontline workers cope. Led by a psychologist, the group allows them to connect with others experiencing similar challenges. Aldad said the group helps them feel validated, know that their feelings are normal, and process their emotional pain.

Mindful Urgent Care staff at ribbon cutting

“Right now, they’re in the weeds fighting this metaphorical war,” Aldad said. “Many don’t realize the long-term consequences of what they’re going through, which could be acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or an adjustment disorder. A group moderated by a psychologist can help prevent those symptoms and be therapeutic.”

Drawing on his experience in Booth’s Executive MBA Program, Aldad followed the data to understand the number of frontline workers affected by the pandemic, listened to his consumers—including the subtext of what they were saying—and launched a product to fit their needs. “Being systematic in the decision to launch any sort of product or idea is something that Booth taught me and something we embodied even in this decision,” he said.

Before each support group session begins, some reluctant frontline workers ask if they can use an alias or keep their camera turned off. They’re worried about being seen as having mental health problems, Aldad said. But halfway through the meeting, people realize that they’re not the only ones struggling. More cameras flicker on. Many using aliases reveal their true identities. “It’s a little bit of a victory for them,” Aldad said.

Within weeks, the group’s importance became obvious. At the end of April, two New York City healthcare workers—an EMT and an emergency room doctor—died by suicide. Aldad knows well the pain this causes families and communities, as he’s had patients and loved ones who have died by suicide. He wants to help frontline workers know that they aren’t alone, that their pain doesn’t need to be suffered in silence.

“We want to be there as a preventative resource, so anxieties, frustration, and burnout don’t escalate,” Aldad said. “This is an opportunity for us to show people that it’s okay to take care of your mind the same way you would take care of your body.”


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