Launch of the Healthcare Workers Care Network
Caring for the Carers by the Carers
Healthcare workers are exhausted, stressed, and at high risk for physical and mental illness as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll in South Africa. Top South African medical, clinical, and professional associations are collaborating to bring much much-needed support and care to healthcare workers across the country.
The Healthcare Workers Care Network (HWCN) is a nationwide healthcare worker support network spearheaded by partners SA Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), SA Medical Association (SAMA), Psychological Society of SA (PsySSA), SA Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA), and the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). It offers all healthcare workers across the public and private sectors free support, pro bono therapy, resources, training and psychoeducation. The HWCN already has over 500 volunteer mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs, registered counsellors, and social workers, who will provide help, intervention, and support to all healthcare workers. These include doctors, nurses, community healthcare workers, field workers, hospital or clinic personnel, including hospital laundry staff, and porters.
The HWCN has launched a 24-hour toll-free Helpline (0800 21 21 21), SMS 43003 and website (www.healthcareworkerscarenetwork.org.za) so that all healthcare workers can access immediate counselling and support. “By providing as many touchpoints as possible for our frontline healthcare workers across South Africa, to ensure they have mental health support and intervention is crucial in ensuring that their mental health is looked after during this stressful time.”
Exposure to the virus, long working hours, psychological distress, looking after own family and challenges with home-schooling, fatigue, burnout are real hazards. Every new COVID-19 diagnosis means longer hours, less sleep, and increasingly irregular meals for our frontline workers, resulting in weakened immune systems and lower resilience. “South Africa’s healthcare workers are under enormous pressure,” says Dr Antoinette Miric, a Johannesburg-based psychiatrist and SASOP spokesperson. “They are committed to fighting this disease and saving as many lives as possible, all while managing their personal risks and anxieties around the virus and its impact on their own lives and their loved ones. Healthcare workers are not used to reaching out for support for themselves. Still, I hope that this pandemic helps them to realise that they need to look after themselves first physically and emotionally, before they are able to look after others. Looking after oneself is not natural for the healthcare worker, who in their nature help selflessly. However, in these circumstances, self-care is not just a buzzword – it is essential. Healthcare workers need to put on their oxygen masks before helping others.”
The Healthcare Workers Care Network (HWCN) is operated by qualified professionals who have the skills to help healthcare workers manage their own fears and stresses around COVID-19, by providing the support and counselling to protect their mental health and mitigate the effects of increased rates of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.
While waiting for the inevitable surge of Covid-19 patients to hit, healthcare workers have faced challenges to acquire personal protection equipment, roster changes, leave cancellations, financial stress, amongst others. Everyday work activities in the healthcare sector have been disrupted as facilities across South Africa suspend all but the most urgent of emergency medical care.
Dr. Caroline Lee, Convenor of the SA Society of Anaesthesiologists Wellness in Anaesthesia Support Group, who has been supporting doctors suffering Burnout for over 6 years, explains that the initiative gives healthcare workers immediate access to help whenever they need it. “It’s critically important right now to be as supportive as possible of doctors, nurses, healthcare support staff, and allied medical personnel,” she says. “These are dedicated people who have committed to seeing all of us through the COVID-19 crisis. They form the backbone and the frontline of our healthcare response. They are taking on significant personal risk and too often working without adequate equipment to ensure all of us can receive the care we need. They are our guides, allies, and caregivers. They are tireless, innovative, inspirational, stressed, exhausted, and too-often undervalued.”
Healthcare Workers Care Network Support Services Contact Details:
24 hour Healthcare Workers Care Network Helpline – 0800 21 21 21 (available 7 days a week)
Website www.healthcareworkerscarenetwork.org.za – fill in the online form on the homepage to request individual therapy and support
The Healthcare Workers Care Network (HWCN) initiative is a strictly confidential, free service run and delivered by volunteer psychiatrists and psychologists and aims to support existing employee wellness programs. It has a main preventative arm with resources for psychoeducation and training of leaders in healthcare as well as personalised support sessions for individual healthcare workers. This current healthcare crisis is not going to resolve itself any time soon. We must support these healthcare workers who are working tirelessly to save lives and treat those that are ill.
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