Access to Employee Assistance Program Jumps 20%: Coping with COVID



The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with the Family Services Employees Assistance Plan has witnessed a 20 percent increase in the number of frontline staff accessing its services in the past 11 months.

“Where there have been surges in cases in the community and surges in cases in the hospital, we have a parallel with the surges in accessing EAP and right now, we are experiencing a spike in the utilization since the month of January, “ says Beth Ternovan, manager of Counselling and EAP with Family Services Employees Assistance Plan.

The plan is a voluntary, confidential service provided to staff by the hospital which offers guidance on general well-being and provides staff with access to qualified professionals such as counselors, health professionals, financial consultants and lawyers.  

In the Coping with COVID webcast on Wednesday, January 20th, a panel of guests examined how frontline staff are coping with the pandemic and assistance programs available to them.

Ternovan says there is a lot of trauma, sadness, burnout, stress and anxiety across the board.

“It’s the face of human grief and suffering,” she says. “The perseverance while they are working, while they are on the unit, being with a patient and then their family members are not able to be at their bedside...along with the heartbreak.”

Interim Director of Critical Care Sharra Hodgins says for staff in the ICU, walking in every day has become extremely tiresome, both mentally and physically.

“The acuity of patients, the amount of COVID patients in the ICU and the length of stays is long,” says Hodgins. “They are used to taking care of sick patients, but not to this extent.”

She adds since patients can’t have family members by their bedside, staff are now taking on the dual role of support system and caregiver.

Hospitalist Dr. Irram Sumar is currently three months pregnant with a baby at home. She says the most difficult aspect of this pandemic is watching patients suffer without the support of their family.

“Seeing people dying alone is so hard for family and tough on us to watch it. At the end of life, having no familiar faces at the bedside…I truly believe at the end of life, they are aware of who is around them,” adds Dr. Sumar.

Nurse Scientist and Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor Kate Kemplin led a clinical team at a field hospital in New York City during Wave 1 and has been spending time at WRH touching base with staff. She says the realization that we are currently in a disaster, can be difficult for some people to accept.

“It has been a battlefield,” she says. “Disaster means that needs are far exceeding our resources.”

Some staff she has spoken to admit they didn’t sign up for this because in a disaster mode, you can’t do what you normally do, which makes it doubly difficult.

In addition to the emotional and physical strain, Windsor Regional Hospital has been challenged with fluctuating staffing levels. According to Human Resources Manager Laura Janisse, the number of new hires has almost doubled in the past nine months but with staff replacements due to sickness or staff in isolation, it is difficult to keep up.

The issue is not unique to Windsor Regional Hospital. At Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare recently, it had to fill more than 70 shifts in one weekend due to sickness, self-isolation or redeployment to long-term care homes.

Kemplin says the best support for frontline staff sometimes comes in the form of venting or talking to their colleagues since it can be difficult for someone, who is not on the frontlines, to understand the battles on the frontline.