Healthcare workers are humanitarians dedicated to providing the best possible care to those in need. They are committed to the work they do, and they make up the foundation of healthcare. They spend long hours directly caring for patients, exposing themselves to viruses and other micro-organisms and putting their own lives and safety at risk in order to protect and care for others. The notion that health care workers are heroes with super strength and immune to the demands and pressures of our system of care is a misnomer and has led to the exodus and crisis we are seeing unfold.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, no one was prepared for its ramifications. From emotional burnout to the exit of workers from healthcare entirely from exhaustion and burnout, it took a major toll on healthcare workers that our system will be recovering from for many years to come. At Safehaven, as with many other organizations that care for vulnerable individuals, we continue to support our RPNs, RSWs and social workers to ensure that they felt safe, protected and, most importantly, appreciated.
Throughout the course of the last 27 months, we came to understand that there would be a breaking point. Staff were overwhelmed – working even longer hours, wearing heavy PPE to protect themselves and our clients as best as they could in hopes of preventing any transmission of the virus either to colleagues, other clients, or their own families. During this difficult and tiring time, our team at Safehaven came together to find ways to help ease the stress.
We recognize that each one of us has our own internal barometer to help us gauge what we need to replenish ourselves. As a CEO, it was my responsibility have a sense of the overall health and well-being of our staff during the pandemic and provide small acts of kindness and appreciation for the work they did along with focusing on engagement strategies to help them through this challenging time.
The mental health of our healthcare employees was a major focus for us, and with the support of our team, donors and generous Board of Directors, we were able to show our appreciation and help them feel supported and cared for. Our Board sent our staff thank-you letters for all the amazing work they were doing for our clients. They created care packages filled with chocolates and gift cards. We also secured a generous donation from companies like LUSH Cosmetics with items such as soaps, lotions and other goodies to help promote wellness and self-care.
These were small gestures, but they helped remind our staff that we are are focused on and aware of the impacts of the pandemic to their physical and mental health and express support for the significant role they are carrying out for our clients and their families. In our recent survey with Accreditation Canada, the surveyors noted how prepared and supportive the Safehaven team has grown to become. From providing more opportunity for education and training to supporting emergency preparedness and becoming more dedicated to the work they do here. Staff interviewed by the surveyors were able to comment on how the team works collaboratively to meet the needs of those they serve. Strategies that were implemented such as transportation assistance to get to and from work, so they didn’t have to take public transit, covering shifts in a timely manner, and the constant communication relieved some of the stress and made the staff feel like everything was under control even through some very serious challenges. We utilized the transportation that we had contracted for our clients’ outings to take our staff to and from work so they could avoid congested settings like subways and buses.
Staff who felt highly vulnerable during these times shared that this gesture will never be forgotten and is one of reasons they will stay at an organization. They felt that we did everything possible to keep them safe, protect them from harm and provided a safety net when there were limited options.
Safehaven continues to experience outbreaks at our locations, which is to be expected due to the nature of our congregate settings, but the education and training our employees have received has ensured they are more than prepared and to manage them using the highest standards of infection prevention and control tools to keep clients safe. Encouraging positive mental health practices and continuing to show our gratitude and care for our employees is what keeps them feeling appreciated and valued at Safehaven. Moving forward, small tokens of appreciation such as dropping by the locations for short conversations and checking in on them to ensure they have everything they need, ensuring that staff are taking their vacations and getting much needed breaks, are all things that we have found making a meaningful difference. As well our huddle structure has been very impactful with daily conversations and ability to support our front-line staff and leaders. The past few years have shown us how important wellness in healthcare is and at Safehaven, we are proud to put our clients and our staff first.