Witnessing death and dying, Handke said, also takes a mental toll on health care providers, who serve as COVID-19 patients’ family while they are hospitalized.
“They FaceTime their family so they can at least see them. They talk to them. They’re at the bedside holding hands with these patients who are not doing very well. Emotionally, it definitely wears on people,” he said.
A few months before the pandemic began, Handke said St. Luke’s formed a peer support program, after recognizing a need for it. He said peer supporters include frontline workers, office staff and other individuals throughout the hospital who have received stress debriefing training.
“It allows a peer supporter to go up to another person who may be struggling,” he said. “You take them off to the side, maybe get a cup of coffee and just visit with them and ask them how they’re doing. Let them vent about something, or, if they had a bad outcome, just let them cry. If they need more support from professional groups, then we have those connection, too, to get them that professional help.”
During the first COVID-19 wave, MercyOne started a colleague support program, dubbed the Care Circle. Hughes said colleagues round on other colleagues to listen, offer support and help them connect to resources, such as counseling services. She said the hospital also has an employee assistance program that is available 24/7 not just to staff, but to anyone who lives in their household.