Using research to find ways to support healthcare workers through the pandemic

By Kristi Lalonde

At no other time in recent history have healthcare workers across this country been so challenged. COVID-19 has unsettled daily life for everyone including healthcare providers who already experience high stress, anxiety, and depression in their workplaces. Mental healthcare workers are known to be at especially high risk.

Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care is a specialized mental health hospital located on the shores of Georgian Bay offering a wide-range of acute and longer-term inpatient and outpatient programs. The hospital also has the only high-secure forensic mental health program in Ontario. Providing treatment and care for these vulnerable populations has always been rewarding, but also multifaceted.


As pandemic restrictions continue and the number of cases rise again, healthcare providers must continue to shift their practices. This ongoing situation is impacting levels of stress, anxiety, and depression experienced by healthcare providers with concern arising for the delivery of mental health care.

An exploratory survey with healthcare workers at Waypoint conducted prior to the pandemic revealed burnout is prevalent. The study found that nearly 70% of workers reported that at times they feel emotionally drained from the work they do. A recommendation from this study is the critical need for effective interventions to reduce burnout for frontline workers.

Waypoint already had robust wellness and psychological health, safety and wellness programming. However, the hospital recognized staff would need additional help given the pandemic. The hospital enhanced and increased access to resiliency workshops, enhanced traumatic incident support, and resource sharing, among other things. With an eye toward future supports, the Waypoint Research Institute also began two projects in partnership with Georgian College to benefit healthcare workers.

ECHOES, or Effects of COVID-19 on Healthcare Providers: Opportunities for Education and Support is a two part project. The first part uses research methods to understand the experiences of health care providers with the pandemic and how the pandemic is impacting the work they do with patients. Individual interviews and surveys provide healthcare workers with an opportunity to describe their current situation and to explain their ideas on additional resources that could help them. The second part of the project involves using this initial research to develop education and supports to improve wellness and abilities of these essential workers to continue delivering quality mental health care during the pandemic recovery. The research team is working with the Waypoint Psychological Health, Safety and Wellness team to develop a plan to integrate and implement these tools to support Waypoint mental healthcare workers.

The second project will seek to improve psychological resiliency and overall mental health for frontline workers during COVID-19 and beyond with an online mindfulness skills program.

Building on the success of the Mindfulness Without Borders 12-week face-to-face Mindfulness Ambassador education program offered at the hospital over the previous two years, this study seeks to understand the efficacy of a condensed online four-week version. The Canadian-developed standardized curriculum was specifically designed to strengthen communication skills, foster social connections, build empathy, prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, regulate emotions and develop resilience. The four-week Mindfulness Ambassador Program is being offered to healthcare workers across North Simcoe Muskoka, and participants will be given the opportunity to partake in this study. Little is known about the efficacy of online mindfulness programming, and to guide development of online mindfulness education, specifically in healthcare and mental healthcare.

No one could have predicted this pandemic would last this long, and we don’t know when it will end, but our healthcare providers must continue to provide essential mental health and addiction treatment and care.

Ultimately, the researchers hope the skills developed throughout this program will improve the mental wellbeing and resiliency of frontline workers throughout the pandemic and into the future. Improving the health of frontline workers will ensure they can continue to provide the community with the best care possible.

Kristi Lalonde is a communications officer at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

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