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Mar 5, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the physical, mental, and emotional health of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other medical professionals. That’s the consensus of multiple research studies into the impact of the long hours, the increased patient loads, and the uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak. Healthcare professionals work every day at significant personal risk and then worry about bringing something home to their families when their shift finally ends. We certainly owe them a debt of gratitude, but we can do so much more than give them thanks. Here are a few things that can help ease the strain.
One of the essential things that healthcare facilities can do for their team members is to make sure that personal protective equipment is available. Masks, gloves, gowns, and other forms of PPE can give workers greater confidence in their ability to care for patients safely. Giving workers specific guidance on keeping the virus out of their homes when they leave work can also bring peace of mind. Mount Sinai has an excellent example to give you a starting point.
Another often overlooked factor is nutrition. Ensuring that healthcare workers have easy access to nourishing meals at low cost (free is best) takes away the distraction of hunger and keeps people from eating unhealthy foods out of the nearest vending machine. Many communities have had great success in developing partnerships with churches and faith-based organizations, nonprofits, civic groups, and businesses to provide meals to healthcare professionals through various mechanisms. Having a team of administrators make the rounds to deliver food, drinks, and hygiene items serves the dual purpose of meeting the need and creating opportunities for conversation and encouragement. Those talks are goldmines for learning what the caregivers’ actual needs are.
Stress is a significant factor in mental well-being. When we understand the factors that drive our stress levels up, we can mitigate depression and anxiety as much as possible. While we understand the pressures that healthcare workers are under, it’s important to remember that what causes stress is unique to the individual. Therefore, to help someone manage stress levels, we need to understand the person we are trying to help. One way that we can do that is through surveys.
This kind of research is not something you do just once. It should be an ongoing process to watch for trends. Not only does this help the individual, but you can use the data in aggregate to look for trends and build safeguards and infrastructure around them. Your organization doesn’t have to reinvent this particular wheel. The American Medical Association offers two free survey tools just for this purpose.
Take this time to make sure that administrative policies aren’t causing undue stress on medical professionals. Here are some common issues to address.
Another way to reduce stress on doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals is to find ways to reduce the workload. Some facilities have found some creative ways to do this. For example, employees who are quarantining or at home taking care of a child can use that time to manage email and phone calls for staff working at the bedside. Appropriately trained and credentials homebound staff members might also provide telemedicine services and run triage or public information phone lines.
A great deal of the emotional strain on healthcare workers concerns how to take care of children, pets, and their homes while working long hours. In many communities, colleges and universities have stepped up to offer free childcare, pet sitting, and house sitting to those working on the front lines. Some medical facilities have even established temporary childcare facilities and doggie daycares for team members during the pandemic. YMCAs across the country have offered free or deeply discounted child care options. Extending the availability of mental health services to medical professionals’ family members is another way to help reduce stress and worry.
Another area of emotional difficulty for healthcare professionals is the traumatic stress of death notifications. Unfortunately, as of March 2021, more than 500,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19. Delivering the sad news of those deaths has fallen mostly on healthcare workers. Medical facilities can help team members deal with the vicarious trauma of these notifications by offering onsite counseling and opportunities to debrief and process with coworkers who understand the experience. The debriefing doesn’t have to be elaborate or formal. A five-minute group conversation at the end of the shift can make a significant difference.
MHS offers Dialectical Behavior Therapy, substance abuse services, and behavioral health services. If you are a healthcare professional experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety due to working through the COVID-19 pandemic, our team of qualified professionals is here to help provide help for healthcare workers. If you are an administrator in a health facility looking for ways to take care of your team, we can help with that too. Contact us today online or call (952) 835-2002 to talk about how we can work together to help your team during this difficult time.
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