Hub of Hope: Michael’s Place embraces healthcare workers overwhelmed with grief – Traverse City Record Eagle

Posted: April 6, 2021 at 1:50 am


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TRAVERSE CITY There is a hub of hope in Traverse City a centrifuge of care that separates compassion from conflict designed to embrace healthcare workers overwhelmed with personal grief brought on by professional duties.

Michaels Place provides a breath of resuscitation to those doctors, nurses and other frontline workers whove been suffocated by such griefs; griefs that have become exponentially magnified during the year-long COVID-19 pandemic.

Two years ago licensed Master Social Worker Melissa Fournier, former director of the Professional Grief Program at Michaels Place, enlisted the help of retired local physician Dr. Bill Smith, along with other community professionals including local physicians, clinicians, and educators, to establish the, to offer peer support tailored to meet the needs of the workplace served, including consultation on how to establish professional grief programs in a workplace or community bereavement center.

Carly Batcha has served as a critical care nurse for Munson Health Care for over seven years in the Cardiothoracic Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

Her work in the COVID-19 ICU stoked an appreciation for the professional grief program.

The past year has been filled with feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, resentment, exhaustion both physical and emotional but also of hope and appreciation, said Batcha. Ive been fortunate to attend some narrative medicine workshops over Zoom, facilitated by Melissa from Michaels Place. These workshops have been really helpful in connecting with other Munson employees and finding an outlet to work through some of the loss weve experienced.

Im optimistic that as more people receive the vaccine, the better our chances of avoiding another wave and eventually, the pandemic, coming to an end. The saying is true that you dont know what you have until its gone, and maybe part of what has made being a nurse during this pandemic so challenging was losing the ability to do the things like spending time with friends and family, that we have always relied on to fill us back up after a long week.

The stress of not only being a person living through the upheaval of our normal lives but also staring down the worst of it every day we would come to work, said Batcha. The silver lining has been how much the staff from all departments and all specialties have supported one another and bonded. The community sending cards, care packages and meals is something Ill always be grateful for.

Fournier said the board of directors and leadership at Michaels Place worked hard to create an organizational culture that supports its workers with their own professional and vicarious grief.

Our leadership recognizes the emotional toll that exposure to continuous loss takes, especially during these very uncertain times, and encourages employees to take needed time off, talk openly about the challenges this work brings up, and engage in self-care as much as possible while supporting opportunities to do so, she said.

Smith, now a board member at Michaels Place, expressed concern about the lack of support in place for healthcare workers.

Long before our current pandemic, there had often been an unspoken burden placed on healthcare workers faced with daily grief associated with their jobs, and very few resources in place to help process this as they move on to the next patient in the next room, said Smith.

Sadly, this pandemic will only magnify the needs of healthcare professionals as they attempt to process and heal from such terrible loss.

According to an article published by the journal of Occupational Medicine, healthcare professionals working in Intensive Care Units during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic reported symptoms consistent with a probable diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression or anxiety or problem drinking, and nearly one in seven reported thoughts of self-harm.

Fournier, who today is establishing an independent clinical social work practice while continuing to partner with Michaels Place in serving the bereaved, said while many healthcare workers know the importance of self-care, the aim at Michaels Place is to help create communities of care within healthcare systems and support organizations in caring for their healthcare workers.

Workers need a safe space to deal with the challenging emotions that arise, without judgment or concern as to whether their natural feelings in response to high levels of loss make them somehow less competent to care for patients, said Fournier. We offer that space.

Some indicators of professional grief include irritability, anger, and blame which could be observable to others. Healthcare workers may be experiencing an internal sense of guilt, helplessness, and cynicism, and may feel burdened by the thought of going to work each day. Some may give so much of their energy to work that they come home and have little left for family.

Pam Jones-Robinson, marketing and volunteer coordinator at Michaels Place, also cited the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as the reason workers have become overwhelmed with the seemingly never-ending revolving door of patients.

As you can imagine, during the pandemic, the stress, isolation, and anxiety of those grieving has been at a heightened state, and as a result, Michaels Place has seen a substantial increase in individuals reaching out for grief support services, said Jones-Robinson.

What we are also witnessing, both locally and internationally, is a greater level of grief and burden on our healthcare workers.

Batcha recalls when the unit she was working in last spring was converted to treat COVID patients.

Looking back, I dont think any of us would have guessed that almost a year later we would still be dealing with the pandemic on such a large scale, she said. The past few weeks Ive felt like letting out a breath Ive been holding. This fall was the most difficult when the healthcare system had 80-plus patients hospitalized, compared to now with 20-30. Im hoping that we can avoid any more surges.

Working in critical care Ive seen my share of very sick patients, and experienced the unique feelings of grief and loss from having my patients die, but COVID has been different. There were weeks where it felt despite all we did, patients kept dying every single shift. Sometimes multiple patients a day, they were just so very sick.

To add insult, this was happening around the holidays and bearing witness to last conversations happening over the phone or Facetime, was uniquely heartbreaking, Batcha said. We, of course, had others who got better and went home, but at the time it felt like the losses far exceeded our win.

About the same time Fournier helped develop the Professional Grief Program, she initiated an international call for submissions from healthcare workers for stories and poems of their experiences of professional grief.

Using these submissions, she co-edited The Healers Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief, (www.healersburden.com) published in 2020 by The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

When founding the Professional Grief Program and working on The Healers Burden, I never would have imagined that the launch of both a professional grief program and book would coincide with a devastating pandemic, said Fournier.

It has become apparent that focused attention on the emotional needs of healthcare professionals on the frontlines, the daily despair they encounter, and the grief they experience has never been more necessary.

Our goal is to provide support to those working in high loss environments and to create a shift in how professional grief is handled within organizational systems, she said. Being raised by a mother who was an ICU nurse and having spent a significant time in my career as a hospice social worker and bereavement counselor, I became acutely aware of griefs toll on those working in high loss environments.

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Hub of Hope: Michael's Place embraces healthcare workers overwhelmed with grief - Traverse City Record Eagle

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April 6th, 2021 at 1:50 am

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