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State of Mind: Pandemic takes mental toll on healthcare workers

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 9:44 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted lives around the world in some ways, especially economically and with physical and mental health. The physical and mental strain has been especially grueling for healthcare workers, who, over the past 11 months, have worked tireless hours and have been exposed to patients who are more sick than ever before.

Frontline workers at Wichita hospitals say when things get especially tough on the job, they lean one others for support and to help with their state of mind.

While seeing some patients ill or injured and not healing like they hope is a difficult reality that healthcare workers are used to, the past 11 months has been especially difficult with so many more patients being sicker than they’ve ever been before.

“It’s definitely exposed the staff to things they’re just not used to seeing,” said Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Nursing Director Cody Rodriguez.

With more COVID-19 patients comes more deaths. With that, strict visitation restrictions meant families often couldn’t see loved ones in their final moments. With that, healthcare workers would take the place of family members, comforting patients who were losing their fights.

“it takes a toll on them,” said Robyn Chadwick, Ascension Via Christi vice president of operations, behavioral health. “We’ve seen more death than ever before in these units, one of the worst nights I’ve heard of was one where 10 patients died, including two patients in their 30s who had no health issues. That takes a toll on the soul of the person caring for those patients.”

When asked what keeps healthcare workers going in these challenging times, Rodriguez said the key is to lean on one another.

“We have always been focused on, ‘how are our patients doing,’ how to identify things that are going on as far as their mental health or their state of mind,” Rodriguez said. “Now we have to look at our peers and ask, ‘how are you doing.’”

With an emphasis on looking out for one another, Rodriguez is on the hospital’s Caring for our Caregivers Committee, which has created wellness spaces for workers to decompress and reflect, as well as to hold virtual and in-person debriefings every Thursday.

“We have a program where we’ve integrated some of the chaplains, so they’re able to round, not only on the patients, but on the staff,” Rodriguez said.

Chadwick said the workers who don’t talk about this stress openly are the ones who may need extra care.

“I worry even more about the ones who don’t show it as visibly,” she said. “Because I know it’s taking a toll on their soul.”

That’s why the committee also helps those workers find outside resources to cope with the stress. Rodriguez said if you have a healthcare worker in your life, the best thing you can do for them is “have a little grace, not just for us, but for everyone.”

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