Female doctor consoling distraught nurse
HealthDecember 18, 2020

Helping the helpers and inspiring resiliency

We’ve been seeing them on the news for months—frustrated nurses and other healthcare workers, pushed to the brink of utter exhaustion. We’ve witnessed their commitment. We’ve shaken our heads as we realized how the system has failed them.

As the pandemic rages on with new infection rates skyrocketing, those who put the care of others above their own well-being must be a priority. We know this. Now the question becomes how. How do we help the helpers?

PPE and beyond

It goes without saying that making certain they have the equipment required to stay safe is imperative. A safe work environment that includes sufficient PPE, updates on evidence-based care changes and adequate staffing is critical.

But we must also address their less tangible needs. Nurses are in distress. Half of the nurses providing front line patient care say they feel emotionally overwhelmed. Burnout has always been an issue in healthcare, and it’s even more of one with Covid-19. We must help nurses and healthcare workers bounce back from difficult situations, to achieve resiliency. How do we, as leadership, do that?

Shorter shifts, self-scheduling and childcare options all go a long way toward promoting resiliency. Because a majority of nurses feel their paid sick leave is inadequate, we should take a new look at sick time policies to ensure staff has enough to allow them to stay home if necessary. If employee assistance programs exist, we must make sure all workers know about these resources.

That doesn’t let us off the hook, though

We must acknowledge the staff’s stress and keep an eye out for signs of excess angst. When we identify a staff member who’s exhibiting markers for high anxiety, we can encourage him or her to take advantage of the mental health resources available, such as psychologists or counselors. Because sometimes a little space to disconnect and decompress for a bit can make a big difference, we should offer areas within the hospital to allow for reflecting and relaxing. Staff appreciation events help with boosting morale, too.

In addition to mental health, we should be sensitive to physical needs. Understanding that the staff’s time is limited, we may consider opening a small pantry or grocery on-site where they can grab a prepackaged meal or pick up essentials for home like bread or milk. When we can make healthy food and drinks available throughout the day, we can prevent dehydration and keep staff energized. And we can demonstrate our empathy for the struggle of nurses and healthcare workers by supplying hand-sewn surgical caps to cover hair, devices to protect ears from the constant friction caused by wearing masks, or face cream to protect the skin under masks.

These are not huge moves. But they’re meaningful. By inspiring resiliency in healthcare workers, we can not only help the helpers, but help them help themselves.

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