The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress exponentially and made last year the most challenging for those on the front line. Nurses are helping their patients cope with stress and anxiety while trying to also manage their own suffering.
Kenneth Jefferson, a critical care unit nurse at HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball, has been at the bedside of the sickest of the sick. He has watched some of them bounce back and has also grieved with the families of patients who lost their battle with COVID-19.
“This is the most challenging thing I’ve gone through as a nurse,” said Kenneth. “Psychologically, physically and emotionally it takes a toll on you, but this is my God given talent and I’m here to help other people get through this. I just put my fear aside and do my job.”
He is no stranger to unexpected and devastating events. In 2005, he was working the nightshift when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. He worked around the clock providing what he describes as “old school care” for his patients in a hospital that lacked power and resources, and was surrounded by rising water.
“Everything was done manually and we came up with innovative ways to suction our patients since we didn’t have power,” he said. “We had to MacGyver some things, but they worked out for us.”
Kenneth, a Louisiana native, started his career in healthcare in 1998 as a respiratory therapist in Louisiana. When he was in high school his grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, which led him to want to pursue a career where he could provide hope and healing to others.
He worked as a respiratory therapist for six years before realizing that nursing was his calling.
“This is my passion and what I was called to do,” Kenneth says. “Everyone has many talents, but there is always that one thing you are called to do. Healthcare is mine.”
Connecting during COVID-19
Social relationships can be as important to your physical health as your mental one, but some nurses have made the hard decision to self-isolate in order to protect their families from a virus they have stared in the face for over a year.
Due to travel restrictions surrounding COVID-19, Kenneth didn’t see his mom, dad, five siblings, daughter and friends in New Orleans for 10 months. In order to stay socially connected, they would FaceTime or host virtual parties when he wasn’t working, but he says there is nothing like the physical touch of your loved ones. He finally made it home in December of 2020 to celebrate his daughter Kynnidi’s 22nd birthday.
Family is an important part of Kenneth’s life. He considers his HCA Houston Tomball team an extension of his New Orleans family. They have formed a unique bond and rallied together to get through some really difficult situations. Kenneth says he is grateful for the support from his work family, but there are times when he has faced enormous mental health challenges and needed to talk with a professional.
“We have the proper PPE we need, but having someone we can talk to during these difficult times has been incredibly beneficial,” said Kenneth. “We talk, cry and vent as a team, but sometimes you have something you need to talk about that you don’t want to share with the team."
It's times like this that Kenneth has leaned on employer supported mental health resources. Knowing that COVID-19 created unprecedented mental health challenges, HCA Healthcare has prioritized the mental health needs of our colleagues through a number of new initiatives, resources and tools.
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Provides free and confidential counseling and referral services to help our colleagues and their family members cope with life’s toughest obstacles and issues of daily living.
- Nurse Care: A unique, free and confidential mental health program for the needs of HCA Healthcare hospital-based nurses. The resource is available 24/7 to help them manage anxiety, balance their work and life responsibilities, practice self-care and handle common nursing related issues.
- PsychHub: A free national COVID-19 mental health resource hub.
- Doctor on Demand: A telemedicine app currently free for all colleagues and their dependents that connects them with board-certified physicians via video. In addition to acute illnesses and conditions, physicians can also provide care for anxiety, depression and stress.
- Beacon Health Wellbeing Program: Allows our colleagues to schedule confidential in-person, phone or video call sessions with a licensed counselor. Colleagues receive five no-cost sessions per issue for each qualifying family member.
- Sanvello mobile app: Offers clinical techniques to help dial down the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. The app gives employees access to mood trackers, coping tools, guided modules and community support.
Resources such as these have been helpful during this time according to Kenneth.
"We don’t know what our PTSD from going through this pandemic is going to be like," he said. We’ve seen a lot of traumatic things and we don’t know how it’s going to affect us down the road. HCA Houston Healthcare intervening and giving us an avenue to discuss those things outside of staff is pretty cool and very supportive."
But it's the bond with his HCA Houston Tomball team that has truly gotten him through. While he's had other career opportunities, Kenneth said the past year would have been that much harder to have gone through with a team he didn't know as well.
"Being here for so long and knowing so many people, I know when someone is having a bad day or a good day," he said. "I know everyone’s skill set, so it’s like going to battle with your family. It is an honor and a privilege to do all that we could for the Tomball community as a nurse. We are a healthcare team and also a healthcare family."