BC social workers fight heartache after COVID-19 outbreaks

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“We’re not really talking about what it’s like to walk through 15 empty rooms where people you know and care about lived.”

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Bryan Gay doesn’t want to be the person who brings COVID-19 to the Abbotsford nursing home where he works.

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The fear of contracting and transmitting the virus is one of the many concerns plaguing the mental health of healthcare workers in British Columbia.

“The staff is finished,” said Gay, who has worked in the healthcare industry for 15 years. “For almost a year we have had this fear.

While vaccines provide hope, frontline workers may face the fallout from working in a “pressure cooker” for some time, said Jennifer Lyle, CEO of SafeCare BC.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the association has provided mental health resources and peer support to healthcare workers in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association. The need has never been greater.

Lyle said strict visitation policies limited contact between nursing home residents and family and friends. As a result, staff often step into this role.

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But this close relationship and “deep sense of obligation” can have serious consequences for the mental health of staff when a nursing home experiences a COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re not really talking about what it’s like to walk through 15 empty rooms where people you know and love once lived,” she said on Wednesday.

Lyle expects more caregivers to grapple with grief as the pandemic ends.

“Once the danger has passed and they have a chance to stop and catch their breath, they will have to face grief,” she said.

In early January, Tabor Home in Abbotsford posted a video showing staff members dressed in personal protective equipment holding photos of some of the 25 residents who died in an outbreak late last year.

The video begins with a quote from an anonymous caregiver who said, “I feel like I lost my best friend.

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We apologize, but this video failed to load.

In addition to grief, caregivers suffer from fatigue and exhaustion after 11 months of crisis, Lyle said.

It is not uncommon for staff to work overtime, including consecutive 16-hour shifts.

Lyle’s voice broke as she spoke of social workers who had lived apart from their families since March out of fear of being able to bring COVID-19 to their workplace or take it home to vulnerable loved ones.

She said there have been cases where staff contracted the virus at work and passed it on to family members, who later died.

Staff also feel guilt and shame when identified as the first case of an outbreak.

“When we talk about epidemics, it’s so important not to vilify the people who work in these care homes,” she said.

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BC Nurses’ Union President Christine Sorensen said she was very concerned about the mental health of nurses.

“Our nurses are struggling,” she said last week. “I’ve heard people say they cry every day on their shift. “

Tara-Lee Calhoun said the daily “caucuses” have helped staff at the four nursing homes she oversees in the BC interior.

“These records are so important,” said Vantage Living’s head nurse.

Calhoun is also a volunteer for SafeCare BC’s Care to Speak peer support hotline. She remembers talking to a nurse recently who lost two residents in one shift.

“These were people he knew. They were important to him, ”she said.

Calhoun asked the nurse to tell him about the residents and gently reminded him that he had done a good job.

She asked about her support system and recommended other resources.

“People have to talk about it,” she said. “Recognize that the deceased was important to them and that they did a good job.”

  1. Children in British Columbia have borne the social, educational and economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic and they will also face its mental health consequences.

    COVID-19: The pandemic will affect children’s mental health: report

  2. John Boer, West End Seniors' Network Men's Lunch / Picnic Group Coordinator in Vancouver.  Boer and his group met for years for breakfast at Denny's on Davie, but switched to an outdoor picnic due to COVID-19.  Boer doesn't know what the group will be doing this fall / winter.

    Mental health issues expected to increase in first full winter of COVID-19

  3. Heidi Worthington is Senior Vice President of Pacific Blue Cross.

    COVID-19: Pandemic harms mental health of British Columbians, many do not know where to turn

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