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Healthcare workers cope with the stress of taking care of patients during pandemic

“Coping is really day today, sometimes minute-by-minute"
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Posted at 11:00 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 23:52:19-05

RANDALLSTOWN, Md. — As the pandemic enters a second wave, healthcare workers are finding it more difficult to manage the pressure of treating the growing number of patients.

An intensive care unit nurse at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown said healthcare workers rely on friends and family but even more so, each other.

“Coping is really day today, sometimes minute-by-minute,” the nurse said.

Even though doctors and nurses deal with matters of life and death every day, COVID-19 takes a different toll.

“We don't get trained for this. I didn't go into nursing, thinking down the line I’m going to be in the middle of a pandemic. Healthcare workers are resilient. I think that going through this kind of just highlights that, the resiliency of the healthcare staff, everyone in the hospital,” the nurse said.

Mental Health America president and CEO Paul Gionfriddo said “we call them our heroes, our frontline heroes, but the fact of the matter is we've been still neglecting them and not treating them as heroes. They're right I think, to be expressing these concerns. They're working under extraordinary difficult conditions and we're not doing enough to take care of them.”

Gionfriddo recognizes healthcare workers, tasked with taking care of others, often feel guilty for taking care of themselves.

“We have to make it ok for people to take care of themselves and remind them the best way to take care of other people is in fact to take care of themselves. But not just remind them, we have to make it possible for them to do it. You can't keep saying well you got to pull a 16-hour shift, you know a double shift, and then come home and take care of yourself,” Gionfriddo said.

Some might find comfort at work, by going to work.

“If you're having a really bad shift, we have amazing support from our leadership, and our teammates. we kind of support each other, lean into each other, sort of been through the trenches with each other. So, knowing that I’m not only going there to take care of patients but I’m also going there in support of my co-workers,” the nurse said.

Peace might also be found within the hospital.

“We did actually have a tranquility room that was created for us in the midst of the last wave, where a little stream going, aroma therapy, dim lights. A place where if you needed just a second, go there and sit for five minutes. So, doing those little things will make a big impact,” the nurse said.

Outside the hospital, the ICU nurse found a few other ways to manage the pressure put on healthcare workers during the pandemic.

“For me, staying in contact with friends and family, zooming, face timing, venting out frustration and the sadness and fear that's around and getting that out, so I’m not holding it in has been helpful for me,” the nurse said.

While she's thankful for her support from family, friends, and hospital management, this nurse believes the community also could add another level of support by wearing a mask and following other COVID safety guidelines.

“It has been deemed that we're the frontline, right? Healthcare workers? But we are not. I know this has been said before, the community is the front line. We're the last line. So, we really need to work together to do the things we need to do to reduce hospitalizations, reduce people getting sick,” the nurse said.

It would give healthcare workers a much needed break to focus on taking care of their own mental health.

“It really is a sign of strength to understand where you've got some needs and when you need to rely on other people. Because, none of us can do any of this by ourselves. But, it's a challenge sometimes with people who are by their very nature, people who give, more than they receive,” Gionfriddo said.

The nurse knows what she would like to do once the pandemic is over.

“I’m going to hug people. I miss that. that's one thing. and, also to see a smile. If we don't have to wear a mask, you really take for granted being able to see someone's face and see a smile,” the nurse said.

Gionfriddo said there are a few things which can help people take care of their mental health.

“What mental health screeners have told us over the years is they're looking for four things, and one of them is information and the second one is do it yourself tools. So, before they reach out, there is something that we can do for them, to give them more information about what they're experiencing. And then later on, peer support is something they want and referrals to care and treatment,” Gionfriddo said.