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The impact of COVID-19 and starting 2021 right

The impact of COVID-19 and starting 2021 right

NMHPV CEO Glenn Taylor. Photograph by Chris Hopkins

A Q&A with Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria CEO Glenn Taylor

1. It’s been a year since the first COVID-19 case in Victoria, what were nurses, midwives and personal care workers who came for support at NMHPV reporting feeling at the end of 2020?

Whilst there was relief amongst our participants that the infection rates were under control the main feeling they were expressing to us was one of overwhelming exhaustion.

This physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion is largely due to the sustained and unrelenting demands of their work, and personal lives, with limited internal resources.

They were required to continue to present to work, for prolonged periods, under intense pressure with underlying uncertainty about what they were to confront on any given day. They were also intensely fearful of how their work and contact with the public could ultimately result in them contracting COVID-19 and the possibility of them infecting those closest to them. This is a heavy burden which takes a significant toll on the individual’s perceptions, health and wellbeing.

2. What have nurses, midwives and personal care workers been saying about the impact on their work and personal lives?

Isolation and disconnection have been significant themes filtering through from those nurses, midwives and carers seeking our support. From a workplace perspective, the need to use PPE has created barriers and reduced their ability to connect with their colleagues, patients, residents and their families. They have spoken of an inability to debrief with colleagues, even in an informal sense, as everyone is feeling so worn out and they are reluctant to burden others. Many of our participants live alone and when not at work they were confined to their homes, isolated from family and friends, and often without a way of connecting with someone close to them with real meaning for several months.

3. With ANMF, NMHPV ran the ‘I’m only human’ campaign promoting NMHPV as a source of counselling and support. What was the main message of the campaign and why was it necessary?

We wanted to remind them that they are flesh and blood like the rest of society and that there is a limit to how much they can give of themselves to others. We wanted them to know that they matter and that we have their back and that we are a support for them to lean on. This messaging is vital to nurses and midwives as they are prone to putting others’ needs ahead of their own and ignoring the warning signs. It is OK not to be OK and we wanted to remind them there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for support.

4. What do you think nurses, midwives, nursing and midwifery students, and personal care workers in residential aged care need to know about the impact of the COVID-19 outbreaks?

We each have a finite amount of internal resources at any given time. Working through these intense and very demanding outbreaks will definitely drain us of these resources and have a negative impact on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing if left untreated. Experiencing these acute stress events on a continual basis, without resting and replenishing, will result in the depletion of our reserves.

This will impact on our ability to sleep and promote tissue repair, to enable adequate digestion, to concentrate on tasks and make important clinical decisions and to think clearly and take direction at critical times. For many, when in this depleted state, we are unable to process events and find hope for the future and we are left in despair. This can leave us feeling out of control and unable to influence or impact on our lives or circumstances.

5. What kind of support does NMHPV offer? What can new participants expect after they have made the initial contact?

The support provided is profession-specific, one-to-one counselling, tailored to the needs of the individual. We assist our participants to identify their needs before helping them design a plan with strategies to address the challenges they face. We believe that with a supportive professional guiding them through the experience, making change and achieving an optimum state of health and wellbeing is possible for anyone. New participants can expect to be treated with dignity, care and respect, free of judgement. We appreciate it can be difficult to ask for help and we want to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

6. What would you recommend in terms of care and support going into a new year?

If possible, disconnect from work and connect with the people you trust and the activities and pastimes that bring you joy and satisfaction. Reflect on the year that has past, identify and celebrate the positive achievements. These can reinforce your successes and instil confidence for the year ahead. It is also good to have a trusted support network around us, including family, friends, a GP and other health professionals, to promote positive connections and behaviours.

7. What’s the benefit of NMHPV being staffed by nurses and midwives with additional qualifications?

We are you! We have walked in your shoes, been where you are and we understand and appreciate the unique challenges that nurses and midwives face each and every day. We believe there is no one better placed than us to provide the validation, reassurance, information and support required to assist our colleagues with their sensitive health concerns.

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