An initiative by Sara Riel to support mental wellness among those working in long term care (LTC) facilities through the pandemic has caught on and spurred a research project, as well. “Last spring, Réseau Compassion Network asked us if there was anything we could do to support workers in long term care facilities, so we brainstormed a few ideas,” says the Manager of Mental Health for Sara Riel, Cameron Tindall. “We checked to see what research existed so we could base our programming on evidence, but it turns out there was very little. Eventually we decided that the best way to know what workers needed was to ask them.”
A survey went out to those working in LTC facilities, first locally in Winnipeg and then across the province. “They were among the hardest hit front-line workers during the beginning of the pandemic,” admits Tindall. “There were so many cases, and new protocols were being put in place every week, it seemed. Burnout was high, and people were scared and stressed.” LTC workers were very focused on taking care of residents, so they said they needed short training that could be fit into a busy schedule, and they needed practical tools they could start using right away to control their stress and stay present at work.
With feedback in hand, the team at Sara Riel created a four-module training program. There was a sense of urgency as they aimed to help as many people as they could as quickly as they could. “We went with a low-tech solution: we recorded ourselves using PowerPoint and uploaded the videos to our website so anyone can access them anytime,” continues Tindall. “We did our best to deliver what they asked for and we’ve had over 220 people sign up for this free programming.”
The feedback from participants demonstrates that the course is meeting its goals. “Staff have talked about realizing that they and their needs are important, too. They’ve said they know that they need to ask for help before things become a crisis,” explains Tindall. “Perhaps most importantly, they’ve said that they’re reassured that this is really hard for everyone, and they’re only human. They need to take care of themselves and each other.”
Since they knew there was a lack of research on the impacts of the pandemic on LTC workers, the team at Sara Riel saw this as an opportunity to collect data so that everyone is better equipped to deal with stressful events like a pandemic. “We asked Dr. Kristin Reynolds from the University of Manitoba Psychology Department if we could work together and she was able to secure a grant to help us better understand the best way to support these workers,” Tindall continues.
For Tindall and his team at Sara Riel, this is just the beginning. “We’re hoping to expand this programming into Saskatchewan and British Columbia in the near future, and to keep collecting that data with Dr. Reynolds,” he says. “Most of all, this is our way of saying thank you. What the workers in LTC facilities have been able to accomplish during this pandemic is incredible and it’s an absolute honour to be able to help them.”