Renewed COVID case wave sends local nurses in search of mental health services

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CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Frontline healthcare workers say they’re starting to really feel the burnout as we approach two years into the pandemic.

“We really haven’t been able to let our guard down at all,” says Denise D’Avella, an Ellis Hospital Catheter Lab nurse.

She says easing restrictions and mandates, plus a general feeling of lessening personal guards, for nurses and healthcare staff has equaled yet another surge in COVID cases and a spike to their stress.

“This pandemic is absolutely not over, and I gotta tell ya, it’s really kind of amped up the severity of just the stress and the pressure that we’re under,” she shares with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

“We are seeing a significant increase in the number of inquiries for mental health and well-being support from individuals who in the past, might historically not engage in treatment,” adds St. Peter’s Health Partners Director of Human Resources Anna Bauer.

D’Avella says in an already high stress job, nurses especially need time to step away from the constant constraints of COVID. She says her workplace has set up a mental health safe space.

“They’ve set up what they call ‘The Lavender Room’, and it’s away from the patient care area, and it’s a place that kind of establishes tranquility and just a little bit of silence. The only trouble now is finding time to get over there,” she laughs.

An Ellis representative also adds to NEWS10 an existing “Employee Assistance Program” has been fine tuned to add relevant resources to COVID-19 burnout. Over at St. Peter’s Health Partners, Bauer says the hospitals have increased counseling resources, one-on-one check-ins with staff, and even extending help with groceries or transportation to take a little extra load off.

“It’s the small things. Reaching out, how are you? No really, how are you doing, is there something that we can do for you?” she relates.

Albany Med reports providing mental health care and spiritual counseling with the following statement:

Albany Med has a robust Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides a range of supportive services, including mental health counseling with therapists experienced in supporting medical professionals, online mental health screenings, and phone-based supportive counseling in conjunction with Capital EAP. Our Support Our Staff (SOS) program is available to employees following a crisis event, and members of the Pastoral Care department are available for support and comfort. We also regularly offer Schwartz Rounds, multidisciplinary interactive discussions held in a confidential and structured environment where all staff – clinical and non-clinical – can discuss emotional and social issues that arise in patient care.

Susan Ford, Albany Medical Center Director of Communications

Meanwhile, the New York State Nurses Association says it’s made free telehealth counseling available to all its nurses and their families. D’Avella says everyone she works with also takes the extra time to help each other.

“We all notice when someone’s feeling a little bit off, and none of us would hesitate to go up and say, why don’t you take 15 minutes for yourself, have a cup of coffee. Those few minutes can make all the difference, because how can you give 110% to your patients when you yourself don’t feel well taken care of?” she explains.

She says you can thank them by taking COVID precautions, keep yourself and your families healthy to avoid the hospital.

“I support the vaccine and I also support it being a personal choice, but if you aren’t quite up to getting vaccinated yet, there are other precautions you can take — masking up, social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene. It’s one of the most disheartening things to receive pushback on that, because we truly do have the public’s best interests in mind,” D’Avella says.

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