Supporting team mental health

As a manager of infection prevention and control for Covenant Health, Ashley Shackleford understands feeling overwhelmed during the pandemic. Like many in health care, she faced an unprecedented amount of work and stress while trying to keep herself and her family safe.

“I’ve never dealt with something so stressful in my life in terms of COVID and the amount of work I was doing all the time,” says Ashley.

Working in a rural capacity at St. Michael’s Health Care Centre in Lethbridge also meant she was dealing with added isolation. She often wondered if she was alone in struggling with the demands of trying to maintain work-life balance, the needs of a community that looked to her as an expert and a daunting workload. When she wasn’t answering questions from scared people in her community or working, she was reading everything she could find and educating herself about COVID-19.

Ashley discovered that Covenant Health has five key initiatives to support staff with struggles brought about by the pandemic. These initiatives promote staff wellness, mental health and team communication. The initiatives were made possible in part through funding provided to the Covenant Foundation from the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation’s Operation Frontline Impact. They include Take Five, the Blue Zones Challenge, Mental Health First Aid, TEAMcare and crisis management, and Homewood Health webinars. 

“The five mental health and wellness initiatives give staff opportunities to invest in themselves and their own mental health as they continue navigating difficult times,” says Geoff Hoeppner, Covenant’s corporate director of occupational health, safety and wellness.

Out of these five programs, Ashley felt that TEAMcare provided what she needed. The program supports teams that feel they are struggling by providing a professional to help them work through their challenges and strengthen their connections. Ashely’s team began with a facilitated group session that lasted one hour. This was followed up with one or two sessions for individuals to check in on how they were coping.

While her team members did not go into a great deal of depth about the details of their personal lives unless they felt comfortable doing so, Ashley found it very helpful to hear what measures they had been taking to protect themselves at work and their tips for maintaining their sanity in a very stressful time.

“What I got out of it was there was a lot of stress and challenges amongst our team,” says Ashley. “And I wasn't feeling alone in that, which I think was really helpful.”

The team members spent their facilitated hour connecting, debriefing and sometimes sharing what was happening in their lives. For Ashley, it was a helpful reminder that what you see on the surface isn’t necessarily the full picture. Coming together as people and not just colleagues was something that strengthened the team, she says.

Ashley is optimistic that this experience will have a lasting impact and that people will be able to take what they have learned and apply it to their lives and their work in the future.

It is important to realize that TEAMcare is not just available for a team in crisis but also for addressing small incidents and emotions that can accumulate and become big ones, says Geoff.

“Requesting this service is a proactive approach to providing tools and supports that enhance coping mechanisms and improve your team’s ability to function effectively and in a healthy manner,” he says.

This proactive approach applies to the other programs as well. Take Five, which was developed by MindwellU, teaches a form of mindfulness that helps staff to embrace calmness during high-pressure situations. The Blue Zones Challenge promotes a balanced lifestyle that encourages good health. Mental Health First Aid is a two-day training course hosted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada that teaches individuals how to provide initial support to someone who may be developing or experiencing a mental health crisis. In addition, the Homewood Health webinars are available to help staff on an array of topics, from managing finances to coping with negativity.

These programs are designed to address the emergent needs of Covenant staff and frontline healthcare workers like Ashley, who have worked tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19, says Geoff.

Mental health and wellness initiatives for Covenant staff

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