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Caring for the Caregivers During COVID-19
You might think grief and loss are just part of the job when one works in a care home — and they are — but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges even the most experienced caregiver could not have been prepared for.
“Our team, elders, residents and families are dealing with loss — not only of lives — but of routines, friendships,” says Bill Pratt, Chief Relationship, Research & Innovation Officer with Eden Care Communities, which operates 17 care homes staffed by over 400 employees serving over 1,200 residents in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw.
“We’re a community. These are not institutions, they are neighbourhoods. Volunteers come in, families come in, we have games, entertainment, dinner together, it’s home. Then all of a sudden, by law, everything had to STOP. Not just for a few weeks — this is for many months, not knowing when it will end. The other part is the real possibility of mass death in a short period of time.
“We needed to help our leaders be better equipped to deal with a situation most had never lived through before. So, we reached out to Caring Hearts.”
Thanks to the support of the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation Emergency Response Fund, Caring Hearts was able to empower Eden Care’s 20 senior leaders with grief and loss training. To encourage more intimate conversation, training took place in small groups of five — each group receiving two four-hour sessions. Dwayne Yasinowski, Caring Hearts Director of Education, facilitated the first few groups in person until provincial COVID-19 restrictions necessitated he host them online.
“Eight hours of training in today’s world is a lot — but nobody was in a rush to get out or checking their phones. It was exactly what we needed,” says Bill.
What was their biggest takeaway?
“Everybody grieves differently. Just because someone doesn’t respond the same way you do, it doesn’t matter. Just allow them to be who they are and be available for whatever they need. Listen. Let people talk, or not talk. Provide that space for people to talk or think in silence. Acknowledge that the grief is real.
“We now have more tools in our tool belt. There’s a quiet confidence amongst the team that we’re better equipped to deal with this completely unknown thing. We know we can get through this.”
Learning to Put Their Own Oxygen Mask On First
For Alana Shearer-Kleefeld and her colleagues, a typical day at the office comes with heavy conversations.
“There isn’t a tragedy in this province — from the La Loche shooting to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash — where our plan members aren’t involved,” says Alana, Director of the Employee Benefits Team for 3sHealth, which administers benefits for Saskatchewan’s 44,000 healthcare workers. “Our life every day is about receiving calls from people saying my parent, child or spouse passed away. And it’s not always a loss of life. It can be a loss of mobility, independence or the ability to do one’s job.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging many healthcare workers — and Alana and team — like never before. It has also come with lessons.
“The longer the pandemic goes on, we’re seeing healthcare workers hit the wall. The daily strain and pressure and exposure and knowing they’re taking that risk home to their family. We’ve also realized, as a frontline service organization, we’ve got to put our own oxygen mask on first.”
Thanks to the support of the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, Caring Hearts was able to provide Alana and about 30 of her team members psychological first aid training covering grief, loss, self-care and resilience. Though the training had to be online because of the pandemic, participants were placed in small groups to allow for more intimate conversation.
“As crazy as it sounds in our virtual world right now, those sessions felt like a hug,” says Alana. “Even though it’s our business every day, it’s scary to talk about those feelings and to really face those emotions, not just of others, but in ourselves. Caring Hearts made us feel comfortable and safe. It was uplifting and empowering to learn the right words to be able to give to ourselves and to give to our plan members — to take care of the caregivers.
“I sometimes think the universe hands you exactly what you need when you need it. We were working overtime, not taking breaks. Caring Hearts helped us at just the right time.”
'Our heartfelt thanks for your kindness and generosity with your offer to help our team during such a tragic loss. It was very valuable learning for all involved and Stacey was an incredible facilitator. The care that you provided from the point of the initial contact was amazing. Dwayne, thank you for that. Hearing your voice on the other end of the line and the way you explained things was exactly what was needed. Thank you from our entire team. You are good people who do good things. We will be forever grateful.’
Regina Orthodontist Group