Managing grief during COVID-19

Care home providers need to consider how they can provide support for their staff and residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are likely to be experiencing significant concern and potentially grieving for residents who have died.

With COVID-19 causing thousands of deaths in care homes, the British Psychological Society (BPS) has launched new guidance to help staff and residents cope with this particularly frightening time.

Professor Nichola Rooney, chair of the BPS’s COVID-19 bereavement task force, says:

“We have all seen distressing news reports and figures about the experience of our care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Staff are doing all that they can to protect and comfort residents at an extremely distressing time, and it’s vital that managers give them the support that they need to provide this and to cope with their own grief and concerns.”

While staff working in a care home may have experienced residents dying before, the guidance says that this does not make each death any easier to cope with, and that staff often develop close relationships with people that they care for.

“Normal ways of coping with the death of a resident before restricted visiting and physical distancing may no longer be available,” continues Professor Rooney.

“COVID-19 can evoke a range of feelings such as powerlessness and despair. Staff shortages as colleagues become ill and the availability of PPE are an additional cause of pressure, stress and anxiety which impacts on grief.

Everyone is experiencing the stress and the experience of loss, but we all manage this experience differently. Some people will cry, others may be angry and others may use humour.

“Care staff will rely on their colleagues more than ever but at times, may also become angry or irritated by them during these circumstances.”

Managers and supervisors may not know what to say or may worry about saying the wrong thing. This situation is not like anything anyone has experienced before.


WHAT CAN MANAGERS DO TO SUPPORT CARE STAFF?

• Staff may be feeling powerless, overwhelmed and feel that there is nothing they can do. It is important to remind them how important their care has been and how much they are valued.

• Managers will be very busy at this time with numerous demands on their hands. It is essential, however, that staff feel that they can speak to and seek support from senior colleagues.

• Where possible, develop rotas to accommodate regular and more frequent breaks. Time out is essential for staff at a time when their work can be emotionally draining.

• At the end of a shift offer a check-in with staff to ask how they are feeling. It can be helpful for staff to come together at the end of a shift to recognise how difficult the shift has been and to offload feelings before they go home.

• Consider ways that the staff can collectively remember the residents who have died and celebrate their lives.