Training and equipping hospital workers with mental health skills

As the COVID-19 emergency continues, the high levels of stress are negatively impacting the mental health of the Salvadoran population by increasing feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and loneliness.

For those on the front lines (police, humanitarian aid, food workers, health care personnel, etc.), they can’t stay home and are rather tasked with taking care of others. For health professionals, it’s even more demanding. The obligation to be in direct contact with people affected by COVID, to maintain rigorous protection measures for their own safety, to be on a constant state of alert, to work extended shifts, and to carry the fear of becoming infected and bringing the virus home to their family has created an emotional and physical strain.

Putting all these into consideration, the Director of the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Santa Ana, wanted to offer the hospital staff an opportunity to take care of their mental health. Mental health care resources and training were not part of the hospital’s budget, so the Director contacted Gloria Garcia, Programa Velasco’s clinical psychologist to think through some options. 

Programa Velasco values the importance of mental health in all activities and especially during this emergency. So when the brainstorming process began to think how PV could lend its mental health knowledge and experience to hospital workers, PV staff were focused and motivated. PV already trains its partner organization’s teachers in similar techniques, so this project is similar. PV presented a project proposal to the hospital with the following objective: increase Hospital personnel’s skills and knowledge about mental health and on how to manage the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospital’s Director and staff agreed to the proposal and were excited to partner with Programa Velasco. The project uses a trauma-informed approach and focuses on two areas:

  1. Creating and equipping an emotional recharge room: This is a physical space inside the hospital designed for the health workers and support staff to use when they need to emotionally and physically recharge. The room has three areas:

a. An equipment area to physically ‘work out’ pain in different parts of the body. There is a handheld electric massager, rubber balls, wooden sticks, and a yoga mat to use. Gloria has trained the personnel how to use this equipt and they then train other personnel who come in to use the room.

b. A “cardiac coherence” focus area allows the personnel to use breathing techniques to align their heart rate and thoughts.

c. A relaxation area gives the personnel a space to sit and enjoy tea and sweets before leaving the room and heading back to work or home.

The room’s goal is to become a safe space for the personnel to use the equipment and practice the techniques that allow them access to the emotions that result from daily work and recharge with positive energy. The hospital provided the physical space for the recharge room and some of the equipment.  PV also contributed by providing cardiac coherence equipment and some other materials.

2. Training hospital personnel in psychological first aid:  Gloria is training a diverse group of hospital personnel in simple techniques that they can use while working to remain calm, centered, and focused on the task at hand, rather than letting a variety of emotions take over. The hope is that those personnel that Gloria trains will replicate what they’ve learned with other coworkers. 

Throughout the whole project, PV uses a trauma-informed care approach where there is an unconditional acceptance of what a person may be feeling or doing to be able to continue coping with work. The project helps to expand and strengthen people’s mental health skill sets so they can stay emotionally healthy and carry out their work with less stress. 

Currently, the San Juan de Dios Hospital is the only one in the country that offers these two  services to its staff. Given PV’s years of experience training others in mental health techniques and the high levels of stress that exist in so many fields, we hope to continue making a direct contribution to the hospital and health care population and to extend the services to other areas that need it. We will keep you all posted how the project continues over the next month.

Your support makes it possible for us to continue offering mental health training and services to caretakers so they in turn can take better care of others. Donate today to ensure they can access our mental health programming. 

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