Health-care workers call for therapy after COVID-19

Various players in public health have expressed that all health-care workers will need therapy post-COVID-19.

And representatives from at least three hospitals across the country have said their staff is physically and mentally overburdened, which is further compounded by an insufficient worker-to-patient ratio.

Chief executive officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital Camile Lewin told the Jamaica Observer that doctors and nurses will need “all the therapy they can get” after the pandemic.

“Sometimes you find persons have even anxiety attacks because you are protecting yourself, but what is the other person doing to protect you? It mash up we meds. I get the isolation reports daily. And you get to a point where you’re looking at the names and each name is just a name, not realising that at the end of if you will see the report of how many deaths you have. And you get to a point where you don’t even know that people who are listed as dead are people you know!” Lewin said.

“I was talking to my supervisor and I read off the deaths to her. A day later, somebody asked me how I didn’t tell them seh Mr X dead. I’m like, oh, my God… that’s the name I just gave the parish manager. This is a man that I had a good working relationship with and it comes to the point that you’re so busy doing other things, you are not even aware what’s happening.”

Lewin said the grim work days are relentless and unending.

“When you leave the hospital at five o’ clock daily, the work doesn’t end there. Neither does the work end on a Friday. The work doesn’t stop. They need all kinda therapy, but it’s not just the doctors and the nurses. You have the support staff. The clock doesn’t stop for any of us. Where we are at now, is like you’re sitting and waiting for your time… when we will get it next. And it’s sad to say that is how we’re thinking now,” she said. “But we’re hanging in there. We signed up for this job. I would’ve made a commitment many years ago. You don’t want to leave your colleagues out there. We try to keep each other afloat.”

Okeem Roberts, a nurse at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), said watching patients die daily has had a debilitating effect on him for over a year.

“Therapy needed fi true. Some a the time, yuh need somebody fi talk to. They need to get professionals to talk to us. You watch people literally go down and caa really help them. You watch people a deteriorate and you caa help them. You do the most weh yuh can do, but yuh still caa help them,” he lamented.

Roberts said he has thought about getting therapy after the pandemic, but isn’t optimistic that that will be any time soon.

“When the pandemic a go finish? Last year this time, the numbers weren’t like this. And being that it’s something weh yuh can get more than one time, it look like this just a go over and over again.”

UHWI CEO Kevin Allen endorsed Roberts’ assertion.

“Therapy is one thing, and we have significant burnout of staff right across… doctors, nurses, everybody; so I agree with that assertion. The hours are long and brutal. My front-line workers… anything to get some relaxation and down time for them. Therapy to go and speak to someone but not just that. Some away time from the hustle and bustle of manning their area. It rough!” he stressed.

He contended that burnout among health-care workers may continue long after COVID-19.

“Some of the nurses are leaving for greener pastures, so the numbers are dwindling. Even when the pandemic is over, in order to get some people off, it is going to be a challenge because we don’t have the numbers to replace them either,” Allen admitted.

The same holds true at Linstead Hospital. CEO Paul McIntyre told the Observer that therapy is needed now.

“It’s not just after, but during. They need it right now. I wouldn’t wait until after. I can tell you that they need it right now. They’re going through some challenging times. They have said it. They have said they are tired and burnt out. They are working with limited staff and people have to be doubling up, many times. It is a real challenge, and it has been voiced.”

Surgeon and president of the Medical Association of Jamaica Dr Andrew Manning said health-care workers have been forced to deal with it for over a year, leaving little time for individuality.

“You’re dealing with a lot of ill persons and you yourself as a caregiver, you just have to go along and you’re not necessarily looking out for your own health. And I’m sure we still don’t know all the effects that are due to COVID. Neither on our patients or the caregivers. I don’t think we even know the full scope of what we’re going to be dealing with,” Dr Manning said.

“I have heard people talk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), certain amounts of anxiety, depression, and other things. It’s something we’re going to have to be looking out for both short and long term. And we’re going to have to find a way to see how treat caregivers who are suffering from issues because of COVID.”

Further, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association Dr Mindi FitzHenley told the Observer that the medical interns who entered the field at the most inopportune time also need counselling.

“We have never separated interns out. We believe all health-care workers are at risk of developing stress disorders such as PTSD, and/or depression and anxiety. The amount of loss they have had to deal with, while simultaneously worrying they could infect their loved ones, has been overwhelming. They can’t take leave to take care of their mental health. They don’t have the luxury of working from home; many are too exhausted to do anything but go home and sleep for a few hours to then return to work and repeat,” she said.

In August 2020, health minister Dr Christopher Tufton said health-care workers faced potentially negative implications for their mental health.

Dr Kevin Goulbourne, director of mental health and substance abuse services at the ministry, told the Observer that psychologist-offering group webinars were provided, but the pick-up wasn’t “consistently satisfactory”.

“The problem we’re having is making sure there are enough counsellors on ground. So, we are trying to engage more psychologists. I am advocating for that. We are trying to recruit more persons.”

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