Tallaght Hospital has been providing psychological ‘first aid’ for its staff as the COVID-19 crisis continued to take a toll on frontline health service workers.
When the outbreak began to escalate in China in the winter, psychologists in TUH started to research the learnings from the Ebola outbreak and the Sars outbreak as they understood the psychological footprint of COVID-19 would be large.
Their psychology team gathered resources to help everyone cope with what was about to happen. The pandemic has had a major impact on everyone but on healthcare staff in particular. They need to be supported to maintain their psychological wellbeing.
“We are here to listen. We want them to call us even just to talk about the day they have had,” said Dr Veronica O’Doherty, Head of the Department of Psychology.
"Many healthcare staff have children of all ages at home, and older parents and relatives they are concerned about. Some will experience loss too of family members from COVID-19 whilst still doing their job every day. We need to support our staff to mind their psychological wellbeing.
“It’s like a band-aid for mental health in the field. From all the disaster research, we know that supporting people’s own coping skills and resilience during a crisis such as this pandemic is what matters most.”
The psychology department’s 11 members are manning the phones, which Dr O’Doherty said is part of ‘psychological first aid’, or PFA.
The team linked in with the Occupational Health department to see if staff needed any medical support. Any support calls are completely confidential and there are 40-minute time slots from 7am-8pm Monday to Friday and over a few hours at the weekend initially but can expand if necessary.
Clinical Psychologist Orla Spencer has been hosting resilience sessions with staff from EDs and ICUs, which look at how to keep well and how to bounce back.
These introductory sessions provide staff with incredibly important information on identifying and managing stress and also how to access psychological support in TUH.
Orla said the training will help them recognise what resilience is, recognize acute stress, and watch out for it becoming a chronic problem.
Groups including porters, nurses, doctors, and administrative staff take part in the virtual meetings over Zoom.
Orla said mixing the groups helps to reinforce the message that we are all in this together.
“Nurses have been working longer shifts, working with new people, wearing gear that’s making them tired and hot and dealing with new situations and different types of decisions,” said Orla.
During this time, they are being encouraged to recognise something they did well that day, say something encouraging to a colleague, or listen to nice music on the way home.
“These things are accessible, not time-consuming, and put a close to a shift so they can start afresh tomorrow,” she said.
In cultivating a culture of resilience and self-care, TUH ED has started a six-week mindfulness meditation programme, very generously donated by the Sanctuary. The team are doing a daily debrief and have adopted a buddy system for decompression. Going home checklists are being used to mentally switch off from shifts and encourage wind down.