US nursing home staff need wellness support during COVID-19 pandemic

United States 2020 © Christopher Lee

"COVID has had a really huge effect on the personal life and work life of those individuals who work in nursing facilities,” says Perry McAfee, a health and wellness officer for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Houston, Texas. “Many of them have to work long hours—12-, 16-hour shifts, multiple days in a row. That has a huge effect on their wellbeing, their family life, and their work life.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on nursing homes in the United States. Elderly residents have been among those most vulnerable to the disease, as have the staff working closely with them. In addition to putting in long hours, staff in these facilities see residents and colleagues fall sick. They worry about bringing COVID home to their families, or bringing the disease to the residents. In order to support the mental health and wellness of these essential workers, MSF has brought mental health and wellness support to 59 long-term care facilities in the US during the pandemic.

“I think mental health support is very much needed in this field altogether,” says Adelia Patterson, the wellness and life enrichment director at Focused Care at Beechnut, a nursing home in Houston. “Especially at times like that, because we're just caregivers at heart. We don't take the time to care for ourselves.”