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“Unmasking” for healing, support and understanding

Sessions at Elkhart General Hospital bring associates together to express themselves in era of COVID-19

A desire to serve and bring support to associates ignited Vice President of Nursing and Patient Care Services Rose Speights’ inspiration behind the new “Masks On, Masks Off Check-In” that debuted at Elkhart General Hospital last week.

Limited to 15 associates — along with masks and social distancing — the hour-long sessions offer a safe space for individuals to hit pause, express themselves and unmask any feelings they have experienced personally or professionally over the last several weeks due to the pandemic.

“As we rolled out our new mission statement, ‘We deliver outstanding care, inspire health and connect with heart,’ I realized that we needed to do this for the backbone of our organization — the associates,” Rose said. “Bring the support to them on their court. Don’t make them seek it out. Perhaps they have too much pride to seek it out or don’t want to show vulnerability and weakness to their peers.

“I need to recognize when an individual cannot recognize for themselves that they may need a helping hand,” she added. “We have been going 110 miles per hour and, just as of late, the marathon has slowed down and what we have pushed down so deep so we could just get through the day is starting to surface back up. The emotions and personal sacrifices experienced are real.”

With the support of Elkhart General Hospital President Carl Risk, Rose looked to Spiritual Care Coordinator Dean Heisey and Organization Development and Effectiveness Facilitators Jewel Abram-Copenhaver and Kimberlie Warren, PhD, to guide the sessions and help create a healing and restorative environment for associates.

Dean hopes associates can use the sessions as a way to name what they are going through, an important step toward healing.

“When you verbalize to someone else what you are feeling, experiencing or thinking, you gain fresh perspective on it yourself. When you NAME, you begin to integrate and heal. By doing it in a group, you can realize you are not all alone.”

Echoing the value and importance of a group setting in fostering a sense of security and support, Jewel said she hopes the experience will help associates to “emotionally, spiritually and logically process what has been happening and to look forward with hope and purpose.”

“What I love about this approach is that it’s about healing those who spend their time healing others,” she continued. “It’s not about learning a new skill, it’s all about being together in the moment and being present with each other.”

Kimberlie is hopeful that associates will benefit from the opportunity to “gather and gain peace, calm and clarity to regain and sustain solid footing moving forward.”

Based on early feedback so far, associates are finding the Masks On, Masks Off Check-Ins to be worth their time and appreciate the opportunity to express their feelings.

Deanna Roberts, RN, attended the first session, taking a short respite from her role as the Director of Medical-Surgical, Total Joint Unit, Med-Neuro, Chaplains and Nursing Support Services at Elkhart General.

“Kimberlie coached us to look at the good we could take away — more family time, pausing and putting on the brakes to enjoy what was around us,” Deanna said. “We all acknowledged that we have been seeing more sunsets, sunrises and rainbows, which were probably always there, but in our busy world we did not see them.”

Following an evaluation of the initial six sessions being offered at Elkhart General, the organizers hope to roll out the Masks On, Masks Off Check-Ins at additional Beacon campuses.

“COVID has certainly been a game changer, especially when life is already so full of ‘stuff,’” Kimberlie said. “To have the extra intensity of this pandemic and all that it entails added to the day-to-day stressors of life in general – and healthcare specifically – that many of our associates experience, is huge. This awareness and action on Rose’s part is a strong message implying that in order to most effectively take care of others, we must first take good care of ourselves.”