WHO helps heal the healers during the pandemic?
For a growing number of health-care workers in Winnipeg hospitals, the answer is spiritual care practitioners.
"There’s been a major shift in the amount of time we spend with staff," said Kathleen Rempel Boschman, professional lead for spiritual care services for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and manager of spiritual care at Concordia Hospital.
"Health-care staff are struggling. They need a listening ear, a chance to debrief," she said, adding staff in intensive care units are feeling the greatest amount of stress.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rempel Boschman said WRHA spiritual health-care providers spent about 10 per cent of their time with staff. It is now up to 28 per cent.
"We really need to be there for the health-care staff, to help them stay healthy for their own sake, for the sake of their patients, and for the sake of the health-care system," she said. "They play such a vital role and they need support."
They do this by "being a listening ear, giving them a chance to let it out if they need to," she added, noting there is a lot of anger, frustration, fear and sadness in hospitals as the pandemic third wave hits.
Doug Koop is a spiritual health-care practitioner at Health Sciences Centre.
"Staff in the ICU have been working very hard for a long time, under constantly changing circumstances," he said. "They’ve been through a lot, and it doesn’t seem to be ending."
Added in is the trauma they have witnessed as patients struggle with COVID-19 and sometimes die. "They’ve seen a lot of awful stuff," he said.
Koop sees his role as "being a listening ear and calm presence. I just want to be a sounding board, help them with their processing."
For Kendiss Olafson, an ICU doctor at St. Boniface and Grace hospitals, the spiritual care practitioners "are a very important part of the health-care system."
This is especially true now.
"People are feeling burned out, especially in ICUs," she said, noting there is a lot of "unresolved grief and trauma" from caring for those who are so very ill.
For many staff, "it’s reassuring to know there is someone to talk to, if they need it," she said.
Another way spiritual care practitioners are helping staff is through the Family Liaison Initiative Project, which provides health-care workers with information about their patients when they can’t speak, due to being intubated.
Through the project, a collaborative effort between spiritual care practitioners, social workers and health-care staff, information is collected about each COVID patient when they enter the hospital (such as career, hobbies, music preferences, etc.).
This is posted at bedsides and enables health-care workers to know something about the person they are caring for.
"They still need to hear words from us," said Olafson. "It is comforting and encouraging, and gives them hope."
Not only does this connect with patients, it comforts their families, she said.
Spiritual health-care practitioners are also helping staff by connecting families and patients through technology — something that takes a burden off health-care workers who have so little time to facilitate those kinds of interactions.
"We’ve become very good at connecting families with their loved ones via technology," Koop said of this service. "It’s become a staple of our work."
Since family can’t visit, they also spend more time with patients.
"They are talking to us more, telling us things they would normally share with families, but can’t because of the restrictions," he said. "We are like family to many patients now. It makes our work even more sacred and important."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.