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Caring for our caregivers and helping with nurse burnout during COVID: 'You Are Not Alone' series with 3News' Hollie Strano

A recent study shows nurses are burnt out, but help is out there. Here is where to find it.

CLEVELAND — “Happiness is when what you think, what you say,and what you do are in harmony.” -Mahatma Gandhi 

“Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.” - Thich Nhat Hanh 

Affirmations like these are sent to University Hospital healthcare workers in weekly e-mails in an effort to help these caregivers care for themselves. It's something nurses at University Hospitals and MetroHealth Medical Center say have not been easy.

“It was hard, it always felt like there was a black cloud over all of us and everything we did," says Brittany Sustar, the manager of nursing operations at UH.

"Some of my colleagues, who you would consider the most reserved and the strongest, they expressed a lot of struggle with being exhausted," Rachel Ogibly, a Clinical Nurse Specialist at MetroHealth, remembers. "Having to talk about COVID with family and friends while always talking about it at work."

Over at Metro, their newly launched Center for Health Resilience, runs Resilience Circles, bringing healthcare workers and anyone else who needs a break into the same space to talk about how they’re feeling and find someone to relate to.

Those feelings could only compound, if not for the work Northeast Ohio's hospital systems are doing to transform how they care for their own. The Resilience Educator at Metro's Center for Health Resilience says she sees that stress every time she hosts a session.

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"Each time I hold this space, people say, 'I just feel like I should be over this by now.' And I’m always there to remind people, 'Of course you’re exhausted, of course you’re sick of Zoom.' It's not a personal flaw or failure to be feeling COVID fatigue.”

At UH, those feelings are tangible. The weekly e-mails, sent as part of the hospital's "UH4U" program to serve its caregivers, also offer invites to stress-relief classes and tips for self-care. The e-mails are opened on average about 14,000 times a week, but have been opened by as many as 19,000 staff members.

University Hospital's Chief Whole Health Officer, Dr. Francoise Adan says helping her staff before they serve the public has become a top priority during the past year.

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"We know the analogy of putting the oxygen mask on us first before we help someone in need, and this has been an opportunity to emphasis on this."

As the world is brought back to health, the mental trauma our nurses could be felt over the next year and may not heal as quickly.

“Trauma lives in our bodies, the issues are in our tissues," Kurtz says. "So we may mentally try and move through this, but our bodies will remember the stress and adversity we’ve had this year.”

For nurses at University Hospitals, their UH4U program can be accessed through the UH4U app, complete with classes and meditation exercises. It's compatible with Apple and Android phones.

The Resilience Circles are open to MetroHealth nurses and the public. Anyone who wants to be a part of one can e-mail resilience@metrohealth.org.

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