By Mrinal Gokhale
The proverb “take care of yourself before helping others” rings true in many aspects of life. With the explosion of the coronavirus pandemic, many healthcare workers fear contracting and spreading the disease in addition to facing more logistical challenges on the job.
“COVID-19 has impacted the healthcare community unlike most of us have ever experienced before,” said Kevin Ganagan, MSW, CAPSW, director of Patient Experience at Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care in Wisconsin.
The statewide lockdown since March meant that Ganagan’s team had to modify the way they provide care. One of their main challenges was helping patients connect with their loved ones with the rise of social distancing laws.
“As director of patient experience, it became clear early on that a key role for our supportive care clinicians to play is reducing feelings of isolation caused by the necessary COVID-19 precautions and visitor restrictions,” he said.
Technology is a large part of their solution.
“Our team uses virtual visits to help promote connectedness,” Ganagan said. “Finding the balance of meeting best practice COVID-19 standards, as well as bringing families and patients together at the end of patient lives has been a primary focus for our agency over the past many weeks.”
He stated that families of their patients are becoming more grateful than ever for their services.
“Patients dealing with declining health and end of life issues are now also faced with the multiple complications that COVID-19 has created for our society. End of life education and kindness has brought families to tears almost daily with gratitude.”
To aid its employees during the pandemic, Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care has provided many resources to all staff from “resiliency and self-care tools” to benefits enhancements. Some examples include virtual yoga, meditation, mental health counseling, emergency Paid-Time-Off (PTO), local and regional Town Hall meetings, and video and email-based communication from executive leadership.
For Ganagan, the most useful tool has been “information and education.”
“We have daily updates that contain the latest information about our response to COVID-19, Town Hall meetings, open communication from supervisors, and encouragement to share what we need to be as prepared as possible to meet patient needs in a quickly changing environment,” he said.
The organization also has a team that provides guidance 24/7.
“Personal Protective Equipment has also been readily available, which has been extremely helpful.”
These resources come from the organization’s Employee Experience team, whose mission is to “support our staff so they can put patients and families first.”
“Employees can trust that we have their back not only in terms of their physical health, but mental health as well,” said Sarah McKinnon, senior vice president of Employee Experience and Organizational Development.
McKinnon said that non-caregiver staff is currently teleworking full time or on a rotating basis.
“Our services must still be provided and, because our population is one of the most at-risk by definition, we are following all CDC and CMS guidelines for care delivery during this COVID-19 outbreak.”
Ganagan’s advice for healthcare professionals is to practice mindfulness during this difficult time.
“During the past several years, I have tried to be more focused on pausing before responding and to take a moment to breathe,” he said. “The support of my coworkers and remembering training I have as a healthcare professional has helped me regain a centered approach to meet patient needs and maintain my own wellness.”
Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care is headquartered in Rosemont, IL with many locations in the United States. More than 3,000 employees work in in all locations combined. The organization currently serves nine Wisconsin counties and has one inpatient center in Wauwatosa.