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New partnership provides mental health counseling to nursing home staff and other frontline workers

BALTIMORE, MD—The Maryland Department of Health is partnering with the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) to provide the Maryland COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Support Program, a new initiative offering mental health support for people working in skilled nursing and other long-term care facilities impacted by COVID-19.

In recent weeks, MIEMSS has coordinated with medical health task forces to assist these facilities with the clinical care of their patients. During these visits, they found difficult and extremely stressful conditions for staff, including:

  • Working with confirmed COVID-19 residents
    Working long hours with no or limited days off due to absenteeism
  • Experiencing the deaths of residents who are often like family members
  • Witnessing confirmed COVID-19 illness among coworkers
  • Dealing with family members who are distraught due to a loved one’s illness

“Nursing home staff have some of the most challenging jobs,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “These workers are on the frontline in helping residents every day, bringing food and medication, dressing them, cleaning their rooms. Many have long-standing relationships with residents — some of the most at-risk people in our population — and they have risked their own health to continue to care for them during this pandemic.”

Dr. Aliya Jones, Deputy Secretary of MDH’s Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), said people who work in healthcare often are so focused on caring for others that they do not focus on their own needs. She cited a 2019 Medscape physician survey indicating that 64 percent of physicians who are experiencing burnout have no plan to reach out for help.

“Stigma regarding seeking mental health support is still a problem, and this remains a particular challenge for people who work in the field of healthcare,” said Jones. “These workers are more vulnerable to heightened depression, anxiety and stress than ever before, and the longer this pandemic continues, that risk increases. Unfortunately, we will be dealing with the mental health fallout from this pandemic for years to come. We must recognize this problem, be as proactive and supportive as we can to address it, and encourage our frontline workers to prioritize themselves as they take care of others.”

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Under the Maryland COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Support Program, licensed mental health clinicians will be available virtually, with MIEMSS staff onsite at the facility to assist personnel with training and mental health services. This will include training on self-care, resiliency, stress management, and when requested, individual and/or group mental health services.

“Skilled nursing and other long-term care facility staffs have found themselves at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their dedication to their patients and their colleagues has caused incredible stress,” said MIEMSS Executive Director Dr. Ted Delbridge. “MIEMSS has extensive experience bringing critical incident stress management services to Maryland’s first responders. We look forward to collaborating with MDH and our network of mental health professionals to bring needed support to beleaguered nursing and long-term facility staff members, helping them maintain their commitments to our most vulnerable population.”

In addition to nursing homes and other congregate, group and assisted living facilities, the Maryland COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Support Program will also be available to frontline workers at VEIP testing stations.

Funding for this project comes from the CARES Act, federal emergency assistance in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Anyone interested in this program can contact MIEMSS at miemss.crisisresponse@maryland.gov.

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