Staff provide wellness supports to team caring for inpatients with COVID-19

By Anna Wassermann

When a team of health care workers at St. Joseph’s Health Centre was redeployed to care for some of the hospital’s patients with COVID-19, it was the team’s wellness that their leaders were focused on.

The Interprofessional Resource team (IRT) is a group of more than 80 registered nurses, registered practical nurses and allied health that provides support to units needing additional staff. Since mid-March, the team has been working on the hospital’s COVID-19 surge units, caring for inpatients who test positive for COVID-19 outside of the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit.

“It’s challenging work,” says Kate MacWilliams, Manager of the Interprofessional Resource team. “Everyone comes into work with such a positive attitude but deep down, we know that many of our staff are dealing with acute stress and anxiety.”

From the team’s earliest days on the COVID-19 units, MacWilliams and Sandy Santos, Patient Care Manager of the units, said they worried about staff wellness. To ensure the team felt supported, the duo organized debriefs at the biweekly IRT staff meetings and a session with a representative from COMpsych, Unity Health’s Employee Assistance Program provider.

Around the same time, Molly Schoo, Registered Dietitian on the IRT, began working on her own wellness projects for her colleagues. She started posting wellness resources, supports, podcasts and webinars on a shared online drive. She also designed flyers and posters for the units, each one containing an assortment of positive quotes and messages that could be torn off and presented to fellow team members.

“In such a difficult time, I felt the need for positivity,” says Schoo, whose commitment to staff wellness and altruistic nature earned her the title of Wellness Ambassador. “I’ve always been the type of person who likes motivational quotes and lifting up others. I thought, why not express it?”

Though Schoo’s actions helped lighten the mood on the units, MacWilliams said that she and Santos still wanted to do more; they wanted regular, frequent and professional support for their team. They reached out to their Chaplain, Lecia Kiska, and without hesitation, Kiska and the Spiritual Care team offered to support daily mindfulness huddles on the units.

For nearly a month now, the team has been meeting with a spiritual care practitioner for a mindfulness session and debrief each morning. These sessions have been particularly helpful when the team needs someone to talk to about a difficult case or a critically ill patient.

“These supports have been so important and really well received and we’re grateful to the Spiritual Care team for making this possible,” says Santos. “The last couple of weeks have been busy and stressful but the team still shows up. Attendance and participation say a lot.”

Santos says the practices they have in place are the least they can do to support their people.

“They’re incredible and they’ve gone through so much,” she says. “Whatever they need, we’re here to support them.”

Echoing Santos’ sentiment, MacWilliams says she can’t thank the group enough.

“When the pandemic first began, people were stressed and worried but everyone has done an amazing job,” she says. “It’s our job now to continue supporting them through it.”

Anna Wassermann is a communications advisor at Unity Health Toronto.