ACUTE CARE, INC. Supports Series – Mental Health Support for Caregivers

ACUTE CARE, INC. Supports Series – Mental Health Support for Caregivers


November 24, 2020

With the pandemic intensifying and healthcare workers’ reaction to the cumulative stress of caring for numerous, and desperately ill patients, we wish to make clear that ACUTE CARE, INC. supports mental health support for caregivers.

While the issue has been recognized and formally addressed admirably over the last several years, in my opinion, in Emergency Medicine it was the death by suicide of one of our own that served as the impetus to recognize and react to the fact that this time, it’s different..

On April 24th the New York Times published Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide, which included these excerpts:

A top emergency room doctor at a Manhattan hospital that treated many coronavirus patients died by suicide on Sunday, her father and the police said.  

 Dr. Breen’s father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, said she had described devastating scenes of the toll the coronavirus took on patients.

 “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he said.

 The elder Dr. Breen said his daughter had contracted the coronavirus but had gone back to work after recuperating for about a week and a half. The hospital sent her home again, before her family intervened to bring her to Charlottesville, he said.

 Dr. Breen, 49, did not have a history of mental illness, her father said. But he said that when he last spoke with her, she seemed detached, and he could tell something was wrong. She had described to him an onslaught of patients who were dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.

The reaction was both immediate, devastating, and inspiring.

Thousands of comments from physicians and nurses poured in.

“That’s me” they said.

“But I feel like I can’t ask for help”, they said.

Their peers and the government responded.

For Emergency Physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians has been notable and worthy of praise in addressing the issue, with a comprehensive effort aimed at starting a dialogue about the reality of being both a vulnerable human being and a physician,  and providing an impressive set of resources aimed at mastering coping and facilitating recovery.

Excerpt (from https://www.acep.org/corona/covid-19-field-guide/personal-well-being-and-resilience/acep-counseling-service/)

ACEP Offers, Wellness, and Counseling Services

ACEP has worked with many companies to put together COVID-19–related offers at either no cost or discounted rates. A comprehensive list can be found at ACEP’s “Benefits During COVID-19” web page.

 We continue to hear the sobering statistics surrounding physician mental health, and we know your job is not getting easier. Emergency medicine physicians stand compassionately beside patients and their families during their worst moments, but the emotional and physical burden eventually takes a toll. We know it is not an easy fix, but ACEP is dedicated to developing resources and providing support that can help you weather the storm.

The ACEP Wellness and Assistance Program offers ACEP members exclusive access to three free counseling or wellness sessions in partnership with Mines & Associates. Sessions are available 24/7 by phone, text, or online messaging, or you can schedule a face-to-face appointment near your office, home, or school.

Counseling sessions can cover everyday issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, family issues, drug and alcohol abuse, relationships, death and grief, and more. Wellness coaching sessions are 30-minute phone calls to help you reach your personal wellness goals. NBME board-certified wellness coaches can help you set specific wellness goals and plan for progress checks along the way to help you reach your objectives. This new program is strictly confidential and is free with your ACEP membership.

The same page includes this passage, Joint Commission Statement on Removing Barriers to Mental Health Care for Clinicians and Health Care Staff

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing unprecedented strains on the health care workforce. As a result, many health care workers feel that it would be helpful to talk to a mental health professional. However, clinicians have concerns that seeing a mental health professional could adversely affect their career if they are asked about a previous history of mental health issues during the credentialing or licensing process.

 The Joint Commission does not require organizations to ask about a clinician’s history of mental health conditions or treatment. We strongly encourage organizations to not ask about past history of mental health conditions or treatment. As an alternative, we support the recommendations of the Federation of State Medical Boards and the American Medical Association to limit inquiries to conditions that currently impair the clinicians’ ability to perform their job. It is critical that we ensure health care workers can feel free to access mental health resources.

 The Joint Commission supports the removal of any barriers that inhibit clinicians and health care staff from accessing mental health care services, including eliminating policies that reinforce stigma and fear about the professional consequences of seeking mental health treatment.

 PDF available at: https://www.jointcommission.org/-/media/tjc/documents/covid19/statement-on-removing-barriers-to-mental-health-care-for-clinicians-and-health-care-staff.pdf

Our colleagues in nursing are also pulling together to support one another and offering resources for coping and recovery.

One example is the Well-Being Initiative, which is laudable in its innovative and comprehensive approach.

It includes an excellent summary entitled Nurses’ Guide to Mental Health Support Services, which can be accessed here: https://www.nursingworld.org/~49d911/globalassets/covid19/nurses-guide-pdf-003.pdf

It includes this statement:  As a nurse on the front lines of managing care during the COVID-19 pandemic, you are encountering unique challenges and stressors unlike any other. The realities of the situation are changing your ability to provide care to your patients, spend time with your family, and go about your daily life. The stress may be affecting you physically, interpersonally, and emotionally more than anything you’ve ever experienced. You will likely feel a range of reactions to stress and trauma you experience during this pandemic. What might this look like for you?

Though the word is included in these resources and others, I have avoided using it until now, as I believe it ideally exemplifies both the challenge and goal

That word is resilience.

ACUTE CARE, INC. supports access to mental health resources in an environment absent of blame or judgment that builds resilience.

To our caregiver colleagues.

You are heroes.

Please take care of yourselves.

Paul Hudson, FACHE
Chief Operating Officer