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Caring for the Caretakers of COVID-19

The Neglected Victims of the Pandemic

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Caring for the Caretakers of COVID-19

The Neglected Victims of the Pandemic

  • Dr. Ari D. Kalechstein, PhD , President and CEO, Executive Mental Health
  • On 11 August, 2020

At this juncture in the history of our nation, we are witness to a crisis, COVID-19, that is unparalleled in most of our lifetimes with regard to the devastation that it has wrought. In the United States, over 4,500,000 individuals have been diagnosed with the disease and 154,000 have died. While the number of new cases reported in the United States on a day-to-day basis is lower than the peak levels reported on 07/17/2020 and 07/24/2020, the epidemiological data do not reflect a clear diminution of the incidence of new cases. These staggering numbers are deeply concerning, but those data fail to capture an important cohort of individuals who are adversely impacted as a result of coronavirus.

To date, and rightfully so, much of the emphasis regarding the effects of COVID-19 has focused on the patients who were diagnosed with disease. Although preliminary case studies have suggested that asymptomatic patients will be relatively unscathed, those patients who are symptomatic are at-risk to experience the following neurologic symptoms during the acute phase of the illness, i.e., the point in time when the illness is active and has not yet resolved: ataxia, acute cerebrovascular disease, delirium, dizziness, headache, loss of smell and taste, reduced consciousness, and seizures. Moreover, studies of deceased patients have reported damage to multiple organ systems in the body and increased onset of blood clotting. Additional studies have revealed that those individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to be agitated, anxious, confused, depressed, and/or traumatized.

It is noteworthy that, with regard to the emotional symptoms, recent studies have shown that those individuals who serve as caretakers for patients with COVID-19 at medical facilities are much more likely to experience clinically significant emotional distress, which includes, but is not limited to anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and trauma-based disorders anxious and depressive symptoms.

A number of factors likely underlay the onset of these depressive symptoms:

  • • Caretakers need to provide emotional support for patients and their loved ones while dealing with the uncertainty about the future, e.g., lack of clarity as to when the incidence of new COVID-19 cases will subside and the uncertainty surrounding treatments to help patients;
  • • Caretakers deal with the fear of contracting the illness, due to regular exposure to the disease, and shortages of protective equipment;
  • • Caretakers also experience significant changes in the work environment, e.g., long hours, change in requirements for disinfection, rapidly evolving changes in how to care for COVID-19 patients.

Based on these data, it would be mutually beneficial for employers to ensure that their employees have adequate access to mental health care. To the extent that employers create a pathway for their employees to access mental healthcare, that effort has the potential to:

  • • Boost employee morale, as it is a concrete demonstration that the employers are committed to ensuring the well-being of their employees;
  • • Positively affect employees’ mental state and reduces the likelihood that the employees will experience disabling levels of depressive and/or anxious symptoms;
  • • Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that reduced levels of depression and anxiety is associated with better work performance, reduced absenteeism, and reduced employee turnover.

For more information on how your company can support the mental healthcare needs of your staff, please connect with the EMH team for an individual plan for your facility. More information on the metal healthcare challenges for SNF staff can also be found here:



Center for Disease Control
Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nature
Mental health of health-care workers in the COVID-19 era

NBCI
Mental health problems faced by healthcare workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic–A review

JAMA Network
Mental Health Needs of Health Care Workers Providing Frontline COVID-19 Care