Venson Wallin, Managing Director, BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the senior care environment, and staff have endured significant stress, uncertainty, and emotional challenges during this time. But having your facility’s support can help caregivers and staff to navigate the mental health challenges that they may encounter.

Facilities can help connect caregivers with mental health resources, many of which have been designed with the pandemic and its mental health effects in mind.

Establish Mental Health Counseling Options

One of the best ways to provide your staff with valuable mental health resources is to establish counseling options. Venson Wallin, Managing Director within the BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation, recommends that facilities contract with a mental health provider or agency that supports telehealth.

“While a hotline is important in providing immediate relief, telehealth can augment the mental health support by providing the staff with a means of speaking to someone face-to-face without having to physically go to the mental health professional’s office,” explains Wallin. “This alleviates the stress of having to find time to take off and arrange transportation, which can often just create even more challenges and frustration.”

Wallin also stresses the importance of making mental health care confidential. “Staff must feel they are free to discuss their issues with the mental health professional without fear of retribution or ridicule,” Wallin notes. “Ideally, telehealth visits should be off-site and not at the facility, as facility-required telehealth visits may cause staff to feel they are being monitored.”

Available Mental Health Support

While establishing a hotline or mental health support program for your facility may take some time, there are some available support hotlines and options that staff can use in the interim:

  • Project Parachute delivers pro-bono therapy for frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is the result of a partnership between psychologist Stephanie Zerwas and Eleos Health.
  • For the Frontlines offers free crisis counseling. This help line is available 24/7 and is designed for frontline workers. Caregivers in the United States can text FRONTLINE to 741741.
  • CovidMentalHealthSupport.org is a database of free crisis services. Created by the Pandemic Crisis Services Response Coalition, this database is searchable by state, county, support type, and more. It can help connect caregivers with the services that they need in their area.

Apps for Healthcare Workers

Facilities can also help to connect caregivers with the many available mental health and meditation apps. 10 Percent Happier, a meditation app, is currently offering free subscriptions for healthcare workers. The meditation app, Headspace, also offers healthcare professionals free access to the app through the end of the year.

Additional Resources

Your senior care facility can also access a variety of valuable resources online:

  • Mental Health America has compiled a wealth of COVID-19 information and resources for a wide audience, including the general public.These resources are divided into categories for easy browsing, and categories include resources like tools to connect with other, information on anxiety, and resources for immediate response.
  • The American Medical Association has compiled strategies and resources that caregivers and facilities can use to manage mental health during COVID-19. This page includes advice and tools specifically for facilities to use.
  • The American Psychological Association’s “Mental Health of Caregivers” resource page is also a highly valuable tool. It includes resources and questionnaires for specific mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and grief.

In addition to the above resources, Wallin suggests that facilities consider the following options:

  • Periodic staff meetings where staff are given an open floor to discuss challenges they’re facing and resources they need to ease the stress they may be feeling.
  • Regular updates from management/executive teams acknowledging the challenges facing the organization and the industry, and how the organization is addressing those issues. Staff must be able to see that issues are recognized and that they are not operating in a vacuum.
  • Updates on how the organization is responding to the COVID-19 challenges. These updates enable staff to see how the organization is working to limit the staff exposure to COVID-19.
  • Liberalizing leave policies to encourage staff to stay home if they feel sick or if they are just not comfortable working on-site. This encourages staff to take their time to avoid the stress of having to report back to work when they are not ready just to keep their job security.
  • Recognition programs designed to identify and reward staff that not only provide high-quality patient care, but that also recognize those staff who contribute significantly to infection control procedures and innovation.

Wallin urges senior care facilities to support staff with multiple resources, both now and in the future. “COVID-19 has placed stress on staff not only from interaction with patients/residents and the potential for the transmission of the virus, but also from the stigma of working for a senior care facility in an environment where senior care facilities are viewed in a very negative light by the public right now,” he says. Consider using multiple resources to support your staff during and after the pandemic.