Taking Care of the Caregivers During COVID-19 Pandemic

Frontline heroes were provided resources and support

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while nurses were on the front lines caring for patients, nursing leaders developed strategies to care for caregivers.

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“The safety of our caregivers while they are in the workplace is our No. 1 priority. We implemented a variety of programs to support them with personal protective equipment, education and communication tools,” says K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Chief Caregiver Officer at Cleveland Clinic. “But equally important to us is their emotional well-being and support outside of the organization.”

Organizational support for caregivers

Cleveland Clinic has developed numerous resources to assist its nurses and other healthcare providers, including meal delivery, connections to child and elder care services, well-being apps and behavioral health support. The healthcare system set up a COVID-19 caregiver hotline available 24/7 that provides information about virus exposure, travel restrictions, COVID-19 test management, virtual visits to physicians, return-to-work policies and more. From the time the hotline launched in April 2020 until mid-October, it managed 50,155 calls from caregivers.

Recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to providing support, Cleveland Clinic uses a variety of platforms to reach its caregivers. The OneClick to Well-Being portal on the healthcare system’s intranet houses information about emotional, physical, spiritual and social resources. The Caregiver Experience Wellness portal provides a venue for caregivers to disconnect, unwind or say thank you virtually. Cleveland Clinic’s Moral Distress Reflective Debriefs and Dialogues offer a safe forum for individuals or caregiving teams to work together through any moral distress they may be experiencing.

A clinical nurse in the surgical intensive care unit at Cleveland Clinic main campus knows first-hand the importance of organizational support. Loice Burgess, MSN, APRN, AGACNP-BC, CCRN, had COVID-19 in April and recovered at home for four weeks. She received daily check-ins from the care coordination team. In addition to monitoring her symptoms and state-of-mind, they ensured she had sufficient practical items, such as toilet paper. The team also provided daily meal delivery to Burgess and her husband.

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In particular, Burgess was grateful for the emotional support of the care coordination team during a time of social isolation and anxiety. “COVID is not linear. I would feel better one day, then 100 times worse the next,” she recalls. “A lot of what they provided was counseling, reassuring me that I was not alone and this was totally normal for the disease process.”

Burgess’ nurse manager also contacted her prior to returning to work and during her first shift back to ask how she was doing and offer encouragement. Burgess says the “overwhelming outpouring of love and support” were invaluable to her recovery.

“As we support our patients and their wellness, we have to support our own caregivers so they are strong enough emotionally and physically to take care of themselves, their families and our patients,” says Jill Prendergast, PHR, Senior Human Resource Director for the Nursing Institute.

A grassroots effort to care for nursing peers

Support for caregivers doesn’t only stem from nursing leaders and administration. Clinical nurses bolster up their peers, too. “I have been so impressed by how colleagues have helped each other at Cleveland Clinic, from buying lunches for other departments to writing words of inspiration in chalk outside of emergency departments,” says Dr. Hancock.

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One shining example is the nursing team from the perioperative services unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital. At the start of the pandemic, the unit prepared to convert to an intensive care unit and provide care for COVID-19 patients if extra beds were necessary. Perioperative nurses shadowed one-on-one with ICU nurses for cross-training. “Our nurses would return to the unit and tell stories about the critical care RNs,” says Angela Sotka, BSN, RN, CPAN, Nurse Manager of Perioperative Services. “They had such empathy for them, providing care for COVID patients and not being sure about their own safety and the safety of their families at home.”

Soon after, a perioperative clinical nurse began collecting small comfort items, such as ponytail holders and lotion, for her colleagues in the ICU. As word spread, more nurses brought in contributions. The perioperative nursing team gift wrapped the items, wrote thank-you notes and created more than a dozen gift baskets, which they delivered to units at Hillcrest Hospital that cared for patients with COVID-19.

“After we delivered these baskets, the staff decided to spread the love to other areas of the hospital as well,” says Sotka. From March through June, the nurses took baskets with comfort items to staff in pharmacy, radiology, the lab, environmental services and more.

“Although my nurses struggled with uncertainty coming through the hospital doors every day, they overcame their fears and went above and beyond by reaching out to do something kind for their peers in the COVID units,” says Sotka. “That’s what nurses do – take care of people. But it was proud moment for me as nurse manager when they wanted to take care of each other as well.”