Staff Profile – Honoring Our EAP Social Workers

Southcoast’s EAP Social Workers Help Staff Cope with COVID-19 Pandemic 

With help from licensed social workers from our Employee Assistance Program, Southcoast staff have been learning how to cope with a pandemic that seemingly came out of nowhere and in the United States quickly spread in areas such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially stressful on frontline staff who have been called upon to care for patients with COVID-19; many of these patients have been very ill and on ventilators and some have unfortunately also passed away. It’s a situation that can take a toll even on the most resilient individuals.

Over the past few months, Southcoast’s EAP clinicians have stepped up outreach to staff and are helping many staff deal emotionally with the onslaught of this pandemic, according to Ron Pelletier, LICSW, EAP Program Manager and clinician. Ron says they have held walk-in hours multiple times at all three Southcoast hospitals, and they have visited and talked with staff working at our emergency departments, intensive care and critical care units, testing sites, operating rooms and elsewhere. They also continue to counsel staff face-to-face, with appropriate social distancing measures in place, as well as talk with staff by telephone, if that’s more comfortable for them.

“It’s important for staff who are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed to understand that their response is a normal reaction. It’s the situation that’s abnormal. Not the person,” says Kathy Riley-Keough, LICSW, Southcoast clinician and EAP Program Coordinator.

“Our staff have been dealing with a great deal,” says Ron. “It’s normal for staff to want to talk with someone about what they’re experiencing. They’ve been coping with a lot of change and uncertainty.”

In addition to those caring day-in and day-out for very ill patients, the staff have been dealing with other kinds of suffering: some have lost family and friends to COVID-19, others have become ill themselves, and still others have been furloughed. The loss of people, jobs, and even the loss of routines and ability to visit with friends and family can feel overwhelming after a while.

Most recently, Ron says he’s seen more people feeling frustrated, irritable, and down. The general sense is: “I’m done with this. I can’t take this anymore.” So much has happened so quickly, some staff have not had enough time to experience the grief they feel, says Ron. “I think we’ll see a delayed grief response,” he says.

Much of what Ron and Kathy do is to help staff reframe their thinking and develop productive strategies for managing change and the daily problems that come their way, such as managing children who are at home and not in school and how best to quarantine if someone in the home has COVID-19.

“We work with people to brainstorm new solutions. People are learning to think outside the box. It’s a whole new ballgame.”

“We’re helping staff work on building resilience, setting boundaries when necessary, keeping active physically, and figuring out how to do things in a different way – such as socialize and manage work routines,” says Kathy.

As we go forward through this crisis, Kathy offers good advice for managing stress and building resiliency during these difficult times:

  • Stay informed but don’t obsessively check the news.
  • Turn worrisome thoughts into action by developing a plan.
  • Do your best to identify what is in your control.
  • Do things you enjoy, take care of your body and spirit, and let go and engage in positive activities
  • Help others—It will make you feel better.
  • Engage in resiliency practices: deep breathing, meditation, prayer, and other relaxation techniques.
  • Talk to others about what you are going through.

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is always here helping our staff and their families.

Learn more about how Southcoast Health celebrates the contributions of our extraordinary staff and providers every day by clicking here.