DENVER — As the global coronavirus pandemic stretches nearly two years with no sign no of slowing down, the emotional toll has hit nobody harder than those working in hospitals.
Making matters worse, attrition and burnout are shifting an ever greater workload onto the remaining nurses and doctors.
"There were hopes that it would slow down and wouldn't last as long as it did," said Rev. Mike Guthrie, the head chaplain at Presbytarian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. "The intensity of it, I think, has been much more significant than we had anticipated."
Guthrie has helped lead an effort at Presbytarian/St. Luke’s Medical Center to give medical workers tools needed to overcome compassion fatigue, anxiety, burnout and other mental health crises that are impacting hospitals across the nation. He sees this not just as a mental battle but a spiritual one as well.
According to a survey of 9,572 nurses conducted by the American Nurses Association in September, 21% of the respondents said they plan to leave their positions in the coming year. Of those that planned to leave, 47% said the reason was because work was negatively affecting their well-being, and 41% said the reason was because of short staffing.
"The fall was a point where we really had hoped things were would turn around," Guthrie said. "As different variants started cropping up, it really did create this level of concern that this thing's gonna go a lot longer than we were expecting it to."
In order to deal with the long haul, Guthrie created a program he calls the Resiliency Workshop in order to aid medical staff through future struggles with COVID-19. The program rests on five pillars: mindfulness, personal integrity, self validation, processing stress and self care.
"At this moment, there's still some trauma that we were experiencing, and we are also in a healing process as well," said Windy Manzanares, a nurse manager at Presbytarian/St. Luke’s Hospital. "Sometimes for nurses, if you can find that mission statement for yourself, just remembering why you wanted to be a nurse."
Guthrie says the core of the program is about rebuilding self assurance through gratitude, like finding small moments in the day to be grateful. He says it is it is about building positivity for medical workers, but also about building community again in small ways.
"In choosing a positive response, that's where our growth lies," Guthrie said. "This isn't therapy. It's peer-to-peer support."