“It felt like you were standing on a beach and watching this tidal wave coming toward you,” she said, “and there was no way to brace for it.”

Biddinger-Grisius got through the worst days by taking time each morning to reflect on the good things in her life.

“Some days it was little things, like, ‘I can hear the birds chirping, so spring must be coming,’” she said. “But at the end of the day, you would still cry.”

At Henry Ford, health care workers’ concerns have evolved, Szalka said, from having enough personal protective equipment or finding childcare, to grappling with a combination of “intrusive thoughts” and physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, irritability and forgetfulness.

Employees have told Szalka they can’t remember what they had for breakfast. Or they’ll finally get a day off to relax or be with family, “and then it’s 5 o’clock and they’re still in their pajamas. And they haven’t gone outside yet because they just can’t.”

Speaking from her home while her oldest entertained the younger kids in the next room, the Beaumont night-shift nurse said she’s been having flashbacks. 

She gets “goosebumps” thinking about the shifts when the calls for intubations and resuscitations over the hospital’s PA system never seemed to stop. She also thinks about the patients she sat with for hours, holding their hands, praying with them before they died, often with an iPad on hand so family members could say goodbye. 

“I was trying to limit my exposure as much as I could,” she said. “But how can you leave somebody to die alone?”

‘Zen dens’ and Zoom therapy

In the months since COVID-19 arrived in Michigan, some hospital systems have launched new programs to boost workplace mental health care offerings. 

McLaren is offering support groups and webinars. There are “zen dens” with yoga mats, zero gravity chairs and sound machines. And at the health system’s Flint hospital, Dr. Nicole Franklin, a behavioral health psychologist, was reassigned to provide on-the-job “psychological first aid” to front-line workers.  

At Henry Ford, virtual support groups are available as often three times a day, with topics ranging from dealing with grief, coping when a family member loses a job, or handling COVID-related stress. There are virtual guided meditation sessions, a 24-hour emotional support hotline, with more staff have been brought on to handle virtual counseling appointments. 

Detroit Medical Center has a virtual “emotional support group” offering tips on self-care and dealing with uncertainty.  Summar Reslan, a clinical neuropsychologist at the DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, started the group and releases the sessions as podcasts for colleagues who can’t make it or don’t feel comfortable admitting they need help. 

At Beaumont, Michigan’s largest health care system, wellness staff have been reading case studies from the military — an institution familiar with the effects of mass trauma within its ranks — to better understand the toll COVID-19 has taken on Beaumont’s workforce. Hospital wellness leaders use a videoconferencing service to conduct small group therapy sessions with hospital staff, and Beaumont leaders have discussed offering extra time off for frontline workers to process and rest now that Michigan’s infection rate has slowed. 

“The goal is to build some resiliency,” said Dr. Peggy Nowak, Beaumont’s director of physician wellness, and avoid tragedies like the suicide of New York doctor Breen. “We just cannot let that be what happens here.”

Those at the helm of these efforts admit they’re starting from scratch in an industry where worker wellness has not always been a priority. In the past, hospital workers and experts said, many health care systems’ mental health efforts amounted to little more than passing out business cards containing the phone number workers should call if they need help, or posting hotline numbers in break rooms.

This content was originally published here.

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