Providing Stress Reduction and Grief Support

Putting on your own oxygen mask first in an airplane crisis is relevant to caregivers. During these challenging times, it is important for them to tend to their own needs for self-care. It has been said that this pandemic “is not a sprint, it is a marathon.” The key to how caregivers will not only survive but thrive is by intentionally making their own self-care a daily priority.

Globally, senior living facilities have been hit the hardest during the pandemic. And local facilities have been, and continue to be, impacted. Just like Hospice & Community Care employees, senior living facility staff have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic. These caregivers have always been aware of the importance of self-care in order to best serve their residents, families and colleagues, yet the impact of the pandemic has made this all the more imperative.

In March, Hospice & Community Care started offering virtual self-care practices and resources for all of its employees. These sessions provide tools for staff to reduce stress and anxiety – both of which are heightened due to the pandemic. It also continues to offer extremely beneficial internal debriefing sessions for staff who are grieving the loss of a patient.

“The pandemic has been scary for all of us,” shared Marygrace Lomboy, MSN, CRNP, Hospice & Community Care, and facilitator of the self-care sessions. “As a nurse, at the beginning of the pandemic, I struggled with how to manage my own feelings, anxieties, and emotions, while still trying the best I could to connect with patients. I was continuing to care for patients in senior living facilities at the height of the pandemic and I could see that their staff were experiencing the same fears and frustrations that I and my fellow team members were experiencing.” To help their staff navigate resident care with less stress and anxiety, Hospice & Community Care extended to them its virtual self-care sessions, many of which began in April.

Helping Reduce Stress and Anxiety

“Self-care and stress reduction are ways to find peace in a sometimes chaotic world,” shared Marygrace. “During the pandemic, healthcare professionals are suffering from increased stress and anxiety, and experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout. They are shouldering the extra responsibility of being present for others in ways family cannot, given the restrictions. So much of their workday is different from before.”

Self-awareness is defined as when the mind is fully attending to what is happening, to what you are doing, to the space you are moving through. That might seem simple, but the fact is that people live mostly not aware of what they are actually doing most of the time. Autopilot takes over, the mind takes flight, people lose touch with their body, and pretty soon they are engrossed in negative thoughts about something that just happened or worrying excessively about the future.

“For clinicians, self-awareness practices allow them to be present in the moment, resulting in being a more calming presence for their patients or residents,” shared Marygrace. “It also decreases a patient’s resistance to things happening with their body, especially at end of life.”

“We are grateful for the help and compassion Marygrace Lomboy and Hospice & Community Care have offered our administration and front line staff during these stressful and unsettled times,” shared Haley Brumbach, PVFiT Manager Pleasant View Communities. “When Covid-19 hit our community, Marygrace was quick to reach out to see how she could help. We had to adjust our program to be compliant with all the restrictions brought before us, but she and Hospice were more than willing to do whatever they could to make it work. We quickly implemented a virtual wellness program for our staff and it was positively received and appreciated. Our focus was on being mindful during uncertain times. Marygrace offered us breathing exercises, self-check-ins, ways of dealing with anxiety, and other stress relieving techniques. We hope to continue our relationship with Marygrace and Hospice & Community Care moving forward, they have been a positive addition to our employee wellness program.”

Grief Support for Healthcare Professionals

In addition to self-care, Hospice & Community Care has always provided senior living staff with debriefings following the death of a resident. Although done virtually, now, which is different than the past, these have been especially helpful during the pandemic.

“Debriefings offer an opportunity for the entire team or organization to reflect together on the totality of what they have experienced or are continuing to experience, through a guided summary of events,” commented Neil Uniacke, Bereavement Counselor and debriefer, Pathways Center for Grief & Loss, a program of Hospice & Community Care. “This is done in a structured atmosphere of honesty and shared understanding, drawn out by having as many of the entire team present to share their perspectives, their roles in key decisions and at important junctures in the unfolding situations they have faced together. It gives them a safe zone to answer relevant and insightful questions.”

In the cases of difficult deaths, either inherently because of the disease progression (whether very short or very long or very painful) or because of specific family dynamics that have created emotional issues for team members, debriefings are an excellent way to help those most involved, to move forward with greater understanding and resolution for their residual feelings and perceptions of those situations.

Neil has experienced through his debriefings that there are several layers of senior living staff who have been affected differently in their own coping with the pandemic – leadership, office staff, recreational therapists, food service and clinical staff. “Every team member is doing the best that they can, both in the situations as they are unfolding and later, after a resident has died and their connections to the family have changed,” commented Neil.

“As Director of Church Relations & Pastoral Care, at Luthercare, I feel a very distinct sense of responsibility for the well-being of our team members as they provide care and support to our residents and their families,” commented The Rev. Glenn A. Beard, Jr., MDiv, BCC Director Church Relations & Pastoral Care, Luthercare. “Out of concern for their emotional and spiritual well-being, especially, I invited staff members from Hospice & Community Care and the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss to help facilitate critical incident stress debriefings for any of our staff members willing to attend. We had a small percentage of our front line staff who participated in one of three debriefings and they expressed a sense of appreciation for the time to speak and to be heard. We also had a number of our leadership staff participate in an intervention as well. They found the process of speaking and listening to others who know what they’ve been through very cathartic and helpful as they sought to move beyond the very worst part of this pandemic for them. A number of them got sick themselves and learned firsthand how difficult this disease can be. Having the chance to step away from the stress of caregiving to care for themselves and express their own grief was very helpful. I would like to thank my friends at Hospice & Community Care for caring about us and providing this much needed support. You are a special blessing!”

These offerings demonstrate that we are all in this together. They also help to enhance the relationships that Hospice & Community Care has with senior living facilities in Lancaster and York counties. The organization serves patients in senior living facilities to help complement the care the facilities are already providing.

Hospice & Community Care will continue to provide support and resources to fellow healthcare organizations to ensure that all caregivers are thriving to best serve their patients, residents, families and colleagues. If you are a staff member of a senior living facility and are interested in self-care practices or grief support, please contact Hospice & Community Care at (717) 295-3900.