Taking Care of Each Other
Cathy Stern MSOL, RN
Manager, Clinical and Operational Improvement
Time is passing quickly. As healthcare team members, whatever your role may be, you are knee–deep in the work that needs to be accomplished each day. No one’s work is any more or any less important than the next member of the team; recognizing everyone who provides services to patients and families is extremely important to the whole team and the work of healthcare.
What is the work of healthcare? On the surface it seems like a simple question with a relatively simple answer. In healthcare, we strive to provide safe, quality care to the communities we serve. It is a lovely statement, full of altruistic sentiment; but what does it really look like to provide safe, quality care?
Remember the members of the team? Picture more than the doctors and nurses, who are generally the most recognized team members in the news today. Let’s also think about our ancillary team members – members of the radiology department, respiratory therapy, OT, PT, ST therapy departments, laboratory, our diverse nursing teams that include techs, case managers, and of course all of the hard working folks in non-clinical positions like environmental services and dietary. Additionally, plant operations, the business office, registration, and of course our senior leaders who have the overall responsibility for the form and function of each healthcare organization, are all essential members of the team.
This week, in a conversation with a Radiology Technologist, the intense impact COVID-19 is having on everyone in healthcare became even more clear. During our conversation, the comment that struck a chord was how this person had been called to seven code situations in a ten–hour shift, and all patients being coded were positive for COVID-19. Some were on a ventilator and some were not, some were old and some were not. During the same shift, this Radiology Technologist performed a chest x-ray on two pregnant women and an infant that was only two days old. There was a family of three who had been hospitalized for some time with COVID-19 – the mother died, the adult son was intubated in ICU, and the adult daughter was in ICU, but not intubated. There were several other COVID-19 positive patients that required portable chest x-rays, all in different stages of the disease process, along with calls for portable films in a busy emergency department. The most poignant comment was “I am so tired of people dying.”
While we know that some patients succumb to whatever disease process brings them into the hospital, the numbers in which patients are dying are at rates not typically seen in most organizations. This is a new work-life experience becoming seemingly more common than ever before. There are other healthcare team members that are equally impacted. Think about the environmental services team that is working hard to provide clean environments by following disinfecting processes to keep patients and staff safe. The point is everyone is impacted by COVID-19; whether on the front line of patient care and service, or due to worries regarding the safety of loved ones, childcare needs, or a family member’s loss of income.
That brings us to the next question—Who cares for the people who care for the ailing and infirmed? While there are significant daily challenges in healthcare, those challenges can bring stressors. The stressors we are facing with the onset of COVID-19 are multi-factorial and can build to the point of physical illness, as well as impact the mental health of our team members. Let’s be mindful. Not everyone reacts to stress or stressful situations in the same way. How an individual manages their stress is dependent upon the individual’s background, their own health concerns, emotional background, and a wide variety of other factors including support an individual may or may not receive from family or friends.
There are several healthy ways to cope with stress: make time for yourself even while at work. Don’t feel like you cannot take five or ten minutes for yourself. I hear stories of team members not having a chance to use the restroom or are so busy they haven’t had a chance to eat or drink anything during their shift. As a nurse, working in busy Emergency Departments early in my career, I remember those shifts very well. They did not occur with the intensity that hospital teams are currently facing and were certainly not an everyday occurrence. We sometimes forget that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others.
Here are more questions to ponder. Are you getting enough uninterrupted sleep? Are you eating nutritious food or just grabbing something to stop the hunger pains in the moment? Are you making time for exercise? You may not be able to go to the gym but remember that exercise comes in all forms. Maybe your current position affords you the opportunity to get in 10,000 steps while at work. So, while gyms great, they aren’t a necessity; how you exercise is up to you. Think about what you find relaxing. Do you read? Watch funny movies? Sit quietly on a porch swing? Soak in a bubble bath? Whatever works for you to help you unwind is great!
I’ll leave you with one last thing: be aware of your team members. How are these intense, daily stressors impacting them? Not that we all should become psychologists or counselors, but don’t hesitate to check in with folks that seem to be struggling. Sometimes it’s a relief to be reminded that we are all in this together and are not alone in our daily fight to provide the best for our patients, families, and communities. Be sure to ask questions and utilize the resources for stress reduction you have available to you. We are all in this together!