As pandemic continues, Ascension Via Christi focusing on mental health of its staff

Coronavirus in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of when Kansas saw its first positive coronavirus case.

It’s given health care workers a busy year filled with long shifts, layers of PPE, and a large number of patients battling the coronavirus.

“This is one of the first times in a long time where we know that it’s really taken a toll, and probably a long-term toll on the staff,” said Cody Rodriguez, nursing director for Ascension Via Christi St. Francis.

While health care workers in the ICU are used to dealing with death, the pandemic magnified the amount they dealt with.

“In one night, we had 10 patients die, that is very atypical. Two of those patients were pretty young adults with no prior history of health conditions,” explained Robyn Chadwick, president of Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph. “To see that volume of death, that intensity to deal with that many patients who have died with that many families and groups of friends who are impacted by those deaths. That really tears at the soul of those caregivers.”

Ascension Via Christi is now taking action to keep their staff healthy not just physically but mentally. They created the Caring for COVID Caregivers Committee.

“Going through an experience like this can really change someone for a long time. So to be able to have those kinds of sustained efforts and to provide that support for a long period of time. I mean it’s a commitment that we’re in it for the long haul,” Rodriguez said.

Their goal is to give outlets to help their staff cope with the stresses of the pandemic and combat PTSD.

“If others look to you as being a hero, it makes it harder to say, ‘I’m struggling,'” Chadwick said.

Some of their efforts include holding weekly debriefings, offering counseling services, and adding chaplains inside the COVID and ICU units.

“They’re able to interact with the staff, be there with the staff. They see what the staff sees. So, it helps because they kind of can talk to them from a similar viewpoint,” Rodiguez explained.

They hope their efforts will normalize conversations about mental health for their staff.

“People don’t really want to talk about it a lot. The more we can bring it to the forefront, the more we can show people that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask for help,” Rodriguez said.

Via Christi is working on making on-site counseling available for their staff to pop-in when needed and have it not be an inconvenience.

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