Released: 6/19/2020 3:04:22 PM
By Tracey Drury
The Covid-19 pandemic has definitely led to post-traumatic stress disorder for health-care workers, said Denise Fuller, a certified therapist with Solutions Counseling Services of Buffalo.
Many have conflicting anxiety about exposing their families to the virus while feeling a responsibility to their profession. Then there’s the cumulative experience of being exposed to grave illness and death and the sadness coming from social isolation.
Providers have stepped in with special programs to assist essential health-care workers:
COPE is a telehealth intervention based on “acceptance and commitment therapy” developed by the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence (COPE). The model, available locally at BryLin Behavioral Health System and Endeavor Health Services, is designed to help individuals adapt to negative emotions and behaviors and address feelings of isolation, distraction, helplessness and fear.
Elizabeth Mauro, CEO of Endeavor Health, said the service targets essential workers such as hospital and nursing-home employees.
“It’s tough working in the hospital right now in any of those units,” Mauro said. “They’re just trying to carry the emotional burden of not having families there, and they’re doing all of it with such a fragile population.”
The COPE program is also ideal for police and crisis-intervention teams who often deal with the fallout associated with domestic violence, anger management, suicides and overdoses.
“You can’t create huge amounts of fear and then tell people to stay in their homes. Things happen,” she said.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is available for health-care workers and first responders through the Western New York Trauma Recovery Network Association, a team of local licensed trauma therapists providing up to 10 telehealth sessions at no charge.
EMDR therapy helps people who have experienced trauma by desensitizing the person’s response to the memory, Fuller said.
“When a person has the experience of trauma, it can get warehoused in the memory in a kind of distorted and disturbing way,” she said.
Fuller said EMDR therapy helps to desensitize the person’s response to the trauma, while creating a bridge between their emotional or intellectual thinking and reframing the event.
“When we experience trauma, everyone has an acute stress reaction to some degree,” she said. “What winds up happening for those people that develop some kind of challenge with it is that memory becomes so burdensome that the avoidance and thought continue to be disturbing long after the event passes.”
Kaleida Health teamed with CWA Local 1168 to promote the therapy to its employees. Karen Swartz, vice president for HR operations at Kaleida, said the program supplements existing EAP and mental-health services.
Though health care is always a stressful environment, the pandemic added another layer of stress and anxiety.
“Some of these types of resources and EAP and their referrals to different resources have really helped them to cope with not only what they’re doing frontline, but what they need to face when they go home,” she said. “The severity of this problem puts the stress and anxiety level at a different level. It’s something that none of us have ever experienced before.”