Support Ideas From the Frontline - COVID-19

By Gaila Palo, MN, ARNP-CNS, AGCNS, CWON-AP Mar 23, 2020

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I’m currently working in a downtown Seattle hospital and have friends at several other area facilities. We’re all physically and emotionally taxed in new ways by this pandemic, and the last thing we need is for nurses to burn out. When things are this widespread, for this long, we can’t just recommend that people use a free counseling session through their employee assistance program It’s difficult to find supportive elements that don’t violate social distancing rules, and it will become more challenging as regulations get tighter and tighter. We all know this need is real, and many facilities are trying to be prepared. I've heard of several methods that various facilities are employing, it’s not ideal, and it’s not enough, but providing support has meant a lot to our community.

Support on the front lines

We have had nurses float to ICUs/CCUs to help with restocking personal protective equipment (PPE), (as available), doffing and providing self-care resources, such as water, coffee, tea, etc. They aren’t ICU RNs, but they are available to support our RNs in any way they can. We also have our chaplains working from home checking in with RNs via Skype and debriefing after codes/tough situations too. One psych CNS has been leading three-minute mindfulness exercises during shift huddles. We also have relaxed some of the rules on medical supply vendors providing food, so that the staff can have a hot meal from a local restaurant on their lunch breaks. These ways of helping each other have been encouraged by leadership and coordinated by unit managers/leadership, so our needs can be met. Having leaders visible and present once a week or so rather than only working from home also has been significant.

Nothing is enough, but small things have made a difference

Some of the nurses are also pairing up to provide child care on opposite days off, and other staff are dropping off groceries and meals for staff who can’t shop during the limited grocery store hours. They’re carpooling to avoid public transportation, and chocolate has been prolific.

We’ve also had staff bonding to come up with new ways to adapt. Pants tucked into the top of compression stockings to prevent touching things in the room is a nurse’s idea and became a trend. There has been mask decorating with whiteboard markers from the rooms, sharing the best memes in the staff lounge. With gyms closed, one department had a competition for nurses to see how many times they could run up and down the stairs, hold a plank position or do sit-ups during their 15-minute break. Nurses are also leading the efforts to include other staff, such as like environmental services and respiratory therapy, in their efforts.

It's been tough, but we're in it for the long run

As everyone is recognizing that this situation will last for months, not weeks, we also have to determine long-term options rather than temporary stopgaps. We all started by focusing on the immediate, visible needs. As this continues and more difficulties present themselves (i.e., dwindling PPE, healthcare personnel contracting the virus, causing staffing shortages, etc.), our methods will have to expand and adjust. That’s where we are exploring even more and still developing.