Preserving the Well-being of Healthcare Workers

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This video focuses on preservation of thephysical and psychological well-being of healthcare workers during the COVID 19 epidemic.

It is aimed at management, and at healthcare workers themselves.

The physical protection of healthcare workers arising from the preparation of your healthcare institution, rigorous infection control including hand washing, and the correct use of personal protective equipment, are all covered in separate videos in this series.

It is worth considering at the outset, the many challenges now faced by healthcare workers:

  • Managing a new and virulent disease, for which we do not yet have a treatment or vaccine.
  • Reducing, as much as possible, time spent within 2m of all patients.
  • Increased clinical workload, possibly for a prolonged period of time. And the stress of caring for ill patients with a raised mortality rate.
  • Further increase in workload due to staff shortages through illness, including workmates with Covid 19.
  • The scarcity of testing facilities to confirm a diagnosis of Covid 19.
  • And worry about the threat of Covid 19 to our own personal health, and to the health of our families, and those dear to us.  

Management can improve confidence among their teams, by prioritising training to improve the knowledge and skills necessary to manage patients with Covid 19. And by preparing healthcare workers to deal with negative experiences, including bereavement, isolation and discrimination. Management should make themselves widely available to support their team, particularly when these experiences arise.

To be best able to look after patients, and other members of your healthcare team, healthcare workers need to look after their own health first. Regular food, fluids and sleep are essential.  If possible, take breaks during the working day to rest and switch off. Consider a walk, music, talk to a friend, pray, or do a short mindfulness or meditative practice. Prioritise healthy food, enough fluids, exercise, rest and good company. Access nature and sunlight whenever possible. If you are at higher risk of Covid 19 because of your age, or an underlying medical condition, consider discussing this with your supervisor or manager.

Caring for others during a pandemic may take an emotional toll on us, sometimes made worse by living a long distance from our families. It is crucial that we, as healthcare workers, pay particular attention to our own psychological well-being, to give us strength to care for our patients and others around us.                                                                                                                                                               We may feel a range of emotions during this crisis – some positive, like satisfaction or fulfilment. But it is also normal at a time of crisis, to feel stressed, anxious, helpless, overwhelmed, and lonely. These feelings are not a reflection on our ability to do our job.

We need also to prepare for how certain difficult experiencesmay affect us psychologically during this epidemic. Examples may include:  

  • Coping with a large numbers of ill patients, prioritising limited resources, aware that we have no specific therapy available. And aware that many patients under our care may not survive.
  • Limiting access to Covid 19 patients for family members may be culturally unacceptable and prove very difficult to enforce.                                                                                                    
  • When we experience difficult emotions, or are impacted by difficult experiences, we need to be able to self-support, and to seek support from others when necessary. We each have our own ways to manage stress. It is important that you use the strategies that have worked for you in the past. Try to avoid coping through excess caffeine, alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • Remind yourself of the value of the work you are doing and of why you became a healthcare worker choosing to serve your community. Include your spiritual practice or religious belief system. It can help by reminding us of a sense of meaning and of hope. Take time to rest and relax when not working.                                              

Stay connected to family and friends, even by phone or text.Those with good social supports during a crisis, cope best. Talk with the colleagues you trust, particularly if stressed or anxious.  Give and take support from each other.   If necessary, talk to your supervisor.

Voice over: Elias Phiri

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