Navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic has already produced volumes of critical learnings. Among them is the impact COVID has had on peoples’ mental health and wellness throughout different pandemic stages.
As several hospitals and personal care home (PCH) sites in Manitoba started to experience COVID outbreaks, Shared Health and Regional Health Authorities quickly shifted health human resources to areas that needed them most. Within personal care homes, many routines and practices which are important to residents and their adaptations into care needed to change to face, head-on, the mental health challenges that would ebb and flow throughout the different COVID waves.
Prairie Mountain Health’s (PMH) Mental Health Resource Nurses (MHRNs) have been an elite group that has certainly answered the call during challenging and stressful times. The team of 15 MHRNs combine the knowledge and skill of psychiatric nursing practice with specialized mental health training and experience to provide service to long-term care. Some MHRNs also offer consultation to hospital settings in their service area. MHRNs have training to work with elderly clients with psychiatric disorders and behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.
Christine Miner, PMH Manager of Mental Health, says this expertise was a tremendous asset to facilities during various outbreaks.
“MHRNs have a broad skill set and have helped sites by meeting the mental health needs of residents during isolation, providing support to staff, and utilizing their nursing skills to assist with direct care during nursing shortages, said Miner, who is also a Registered Psychiatric Nurse.
“Many MHRNs have accepted direct service nursing shifts when nurses were ill, or stepped into a leadership role to assist with the clinical nursing leadership duties on-site when needed. They were there to support families as well as residents,” Miner added.
Michelle Janz is the MHRN Client Care Coordinator within PMH, based out of Brandon. Janz says MHRNs played a significant role in care planning for care home residents.
“Isolation was incredibly difficult for most residents, especially those with cognitive disorders,” Janz stated.
“MHRNs helped establish activities and resources that could be used to pass the time with residents, including setting up FaceTime calls so residents could interact with their families and friends. There was a lot of collaboration with the site recreation departments, and we also assisted with providing daily updates on residents’ conditions and reassurance to families over the phone.”
John Cail is a MHRN who resides in Dauphin. He assisted at eight different outbreak sites: Gilbert Plains, Grandview, Roblin, Benito, Swan River, Winnipegosis, Dauphin, and Ste Rose. He says when it was possible even establishing a small routine helped residents.
“(Sometimes), just the active presence of a walking partner can help ground the resident to person, place and time while instilling hope that people are working to get things back to normal. Validation of the confusion an outbreak can bring, and empathy for the resident struggling to understand it, are key elements of keeping the resident the central focus of service and not leaving them to stand still,” Cail added.
Sylvie Lesage, a MHRN based out of Glenboro, says there were times thinking outside of the box was a necessity.
“We worked with dietary staff sending a “joke of the day” on meal trays to keep spirits up, nursing staff stepped forward as hairdressers to provide haircuts to residents in PCHs (when no outside staff was allowed in care homes), schools came by to parade their Halloween costumes outside or all those who sent cards to the residents. These are all positive events that come to mind,” said Lesage.
Janz says she won’t soon forget the feeling of community and teamwork that faced them at critical times.
“There isn’t a single MHRN who hasn’t had one of their sites declare a COVID-19 outbreak over the last two years,” Janz said.
“We worked through many unknown challenges during one of our first outbreaks at Fairview PCH in Brandon. Everyone worked dozens of shifts in a row but continued to go above and beyond to provide care to our residents and support our co-workers! I felt there was nothing our team couldn’t tackle together.”
“We had moments on our dementia unit when I would come down the hallway of our red zone and see the staff interacting and visiting with the residents. The residents would all be smiling, and despite the masks, I could tell that the staff were, too.”
Miner says nurses across the region have not only responded in a time of need but have gone above and beyond to conquer assignments that may have been considered impossible over the past two years.
“Have nurses ‘answered the call’? That is a resounding yes and then some! Many have given up time for rest, time at home with family and friends and given every last drop of energy to ensure that residents receive the care they deserve. All the while ensuring that fellow nurses don’t get left without support. We can’t say thank you enough to nurses and all health-care providers for the dedication, commitment, and compassion that they have brought to work every day,” Miner stated.