The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped life as we know it. There’s hardly been a corner of our world left unaffected. Not surprisingly, one of the hardest-hit populations has been health-care workers. Long, strenuous hours, staff shortages and the increased risk of exposure to the virus turned hospital hallways into veritable trenches. But as the pandemic raged, London Health Sciences Foundation (LHSF) launched the COVID-19 Response Fund, which in part, went toward supporting frontline health workers at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
To address the mounting pressure on staff, LHSC’s manager of just culture, wellness and staff support, Nancy Lawrence and the COVID Wellness Task Force engaged with staff and leaders alike to better understand the needs of the organization from a wellness perspective.
“We identified two key strategies to help support staff,” says Nancy. “First, was the implementation of a Wellness Response Team (WRT), and second was the creation and installation of wellness information boards.”
Acting as a point of contact for departments, the role of WRT members is to quickly and effectively respond to emerging issues. Personal resiliency, self-care and organizational supports are some of the major themes promoted by the WRT. The purposeful exploration and acknowledgement of one’s feelings as a way to move forward instead of allowing negative thoughts to gestate and fester in silence.
To make this data more accessible to frontline staff, 15 wellness information boards were placed in high traffic areas at both Victoria Hospital and University Hospital. Material highlighting the Employee and Family Assistance Program, staff benefits and in-the-moment “micro-practices” detailing mindfulness and grounding techniques are just some examples of what’s featured on the boards.
Word got out, too. Within 48 hours of those first 15 boards being installed, calls were coming in from individual units requesting their own. This prompted an additional 35 being ordered, funding for which was provided by the generous donors of LHSF’s COVID-19 Response Fund, followed by another 62 ordered at the units’ own expense. In total, 112 wellness information boards are spread throughout LHSC, including all offsite locations.
Furthermore, the WRT and LHSF purchased hundreds of what are known as PASS kits. An acronym for Panic, Anxiety and Stress Support, PASS kits are portable mental health resources designed to manage daily stressors while also fostering a meaningful connection between staff members.
“We’re encouraging people to buddy up with someone who will understand their experience and be able to help them manage the stress and anxiety they may be feeling,” Nancy explains. “Because it’s not just about personal accountability, it’s about organizational accountability. These tools are helping us really be there for our staff.”
With vaccines now being rolled out, our communities will soon be able to come together once again with more confidence and joy long overdue. However, the toll this past year-and-a-half has had on health staff is sure to leave its mark. But within the chaos and confusion, despite the anguish, it should be known how people stood next to one another choosing compassion over surrender; that our capacity to care outweighed our fear of an enemy all but invisible.