May 7, 2020

Nurses open up about protecting mental health, program offers free online therapy during crisis

MICHIGAN (WJRT) – (05/06/20) – It is the the start of National Nurses Week, although the trauma experienced by some of them will likely last for some time.

ABC12 is recognizing the importance of mental health for front line health care workers during this pandemic while shedding light on a program offering free support to those who want it.

Just a couple of months ago Kimberly Cox couldn’t have predicted what she was about to experience.

“I remember the date, the time, the mother’s scream in the background because at that time they were still allowing people in for emergencies,” Cox said. “It took a long time to be able to go to sleep and not hear her cry.”

The longtime SICU registered nurse recalled March 29, when she lost her first patient to COVID-19 while working at Ascension Genesys. Thinking of that moment brought her to tears.

When asked about how she copes and deals with the weight of what’s happening around her, she said the nurses lean on each other.

“We all sit together and talk and try to help each other, but this is nursing like I’ve never seen it before,” Cox said.

Cox’s colleague, Kelly Rivera-Craine, also recalled a painful moment on Easter Sunday. The ortho/neuro nurse was pitching in to help with coronavirus patients when she learned of the extent of post-mortem care her colleagues have to perform.

It’s something she says is normally handled by a funeral home, but was being handled by nurses to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“You had to do your post-mortem care and then put the patient into the body bag, zip up the body bag, wipe down the body bag, but you also had to put a toe tag on the patient,” Rivera-Craine explained. “That’s nothing that you ever do. It’s nothing you ever experience in nursing school.”

The nurses are with Teamsters Local 332 and have been fighting for their patients and for critical personal protection equipment for themselves during the pandemic.

RELATED: Teamsters files grievance for Ascension Genesys nurses who want PPE

Dr. Bryan Weinstein says they must also protect their mental health, and his organization is providing a way for them to do so free of charge.

“It’s really, really important that our first responders know to take care of themselves, because if they don’t, in the end they’re not going to be able to continue to do the great work they do,” Weinstein said.

He’s the CEO and founder of Summit Psychiatric Services and Life Skills Village. A new program offers group therapy via Zoom for six weeks. It is moderated by a licensed mental health professional. The group starts with 12 people, but Weinstein says there’s no reason they couldn’t expand to have more groups because the service is provided via Zoom.

“They can receive the support, feedback and recommendations from others who understand what they’re going through,” Weinstein said.

If the front line workers don’t deal with the trauma some of them are facing, Weinstein says they could experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Eventually they can become – they can avoid their own field. They can avoid hospitals,” he said. “But the biggest components are being withdrawn, sad, anxious, fearful, having nightmares.”

Mental health support is something both Cox and Rivera-Craine support.

“I worry about their [co-workers] mental health. These are people I’ve known for years. They are my family, and I could just see it. They looked tired. They looked stressed out,” Rivera-Crain said.

The veteran nurses also wanted to make sure people understand that during nurses week, all health care workers deserve to be recognized.

“This should be health care workers week,” Rivera-Craine said. “We’re a team.”

“Our hearts go out to you guys. We know you’re there for everybody and again we’re there for you,” Weinstein said.

The first group therapy online session begins Monday. To sign up or to learn more, click here.

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