Peer program helps frontline health workers handle stress

Posted at 7:05 AM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 08:42:31-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Banner Hospital has been working closely with employees to maintain their own mental health. All of this while they do their part to help save others battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Banner Senior Risk Manager Elieen Fernstrom says Banner created a peer support program 3 years ago and its well into place to help employees navigate life through today's crisis.
Fernstrom has been part of the implementation process from day one.

“We saw then and now a need to support our staff in real time especially when they were involved in highly charged events. Like unexpected patient outcome or an employee illness or illness they had to deal with. Now in this health crisis of COVID-19 that need has been escalated we’re glad we have this up and running for our staff,” Fernstrom said.

Banner has daily protocols to keep employees on a healthy track and a big part of it is communicating about fears and anxieties to ease the tension. They’re also helping employees who are worried about bringing COVID-19 home to their families.

“We have developed 4 virtual calls every single day so our staff can call in. The program is for physicians nurses any front-line staff that are in the facilities and they call in with what their fears are their emotions their feelings to try and defuse that for them. We have more than 700 facilitators throughout the system to meet with individuals or units and departments to provide that service if they request it,” Fernstrom said.

"I think one day I had four or five patients die." Tucson healthcare worker takes on COVID-19 in NYC

Decompressing after work is also key and Fernstrom says the community is stepping up to help in every way they can. Locals are sending in extra meals, notes and cards to show appreciation for their work. Helping patients connect with their loved ones to ease loneliness is helping workers manage their patients.

“Whether it be running or knitting or whatever they have to decompress or that stress added every day. It's a long-haul thing not a short-term thing. Part of what we do is comfort our patients as a nurse that’s what we want and it’s difficult when you have your PPE on and you can’t really have any human interaction. Its stressful for nurses and caregivers who see their patients alone,” Fernstrom said.

The staff at Banner will continue to move forward with the tools needed to make it through these trying times so they can help their patients do the same.
“As groups come together units support each other and it builds teamwork resiliency, retention,” she said.