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How to support health care workers as pandemic drags on

To support health care workers, a mental health counselor recommended masking up, social distancing and making signs of appreciation.

We’re hearing about the strain from the COVID-19 pandemic on our health care system and its workers. Our next expert sees something else happening.

As part of our ongoing series “Are You Okay?” Damian Gennette, a mental health counselor and the employee wellness coordinator for MultiCare, talks about what he’s seeing on the frontlines and how health care workers are coping.

Health care worker challenges in an ongoing pandemic 

Health care workers are facing high intellectual demand. Some are anxious about catching COVID-19, and there’s grief over the loss they’re seeing. But Gennette says that on the frontlines and in the medical centers he is seeing great things too.

“I’m constantly humbled by all of the good things I see,” said Gennette. “Health care providers are rising to address the needs the pandemic creates, and it’s working. They know how to do this.”

Gennette pointed out that most COVID-19 patient outcomes are positive. He attributed many successes to the training and experience of health care workers who have learned quickly and with interest, remained dedicated and continue to provide compassionate care despite challenges.

Support for health care workers 

Hospitals and medical centers throughout the nation have programs in place to support health care workers. This is by design because working in health care presents different emotional demands than other categories of work.

MultiCare, where Gennette helps run employee support programs, uses a multifaceted approach to support its workers. All employees can access Code Lavender, a program MultiCare implemented in 2016 to address the emotional demands of health care work. Through Code Lavender employees can debrief in facilitated one-on-one or group setting to talk about difficult experiences. Any employee can also anonymously access a 24/7 support hotline. The Code Lavender program created the hotline in response to the pandemic, knowing that health care workers could use extra support.

Beyond Code Lavender, Gennette and his colleagues make sure health care workers have access to a number of resources. The resources help alleviate stress that is common for health care providers and make life easier in general. MultiCare employees have access to programs within the health care network for behavioral health counseling, healthy nutrition and exercise, connections to child and elder care resources and legal and financial advisory.

Vaccines are light at end of pandemic tunnel 

This past week, Gennette and many of his colleagues received their first shot of the vaccine. The vaccine rollout, Gennette says, is a light at the end of a tunnel.

He says the pandemic created a call to service for many. He hears medical residents within the hospitals talking about how empowered they feel because they are able to use their education and skills to care for patients.

Recently, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported applications to medical schools are up 18%. The increase is dubbed the “Fauci effect.” Applications for nursing schools are also up. Nursing schools at some universities have announced plans for expansion, as America faces a continued shortage of nurses that began well before the pandemic.

RELATED: 'Fauci effect' a likely cause of applicant uptick at Washington medical schools

Express your thanks and support of health care workers 

Observing public health guidelines that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is a big way that you can help health care workers. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is the best way to ensure that our health care system and workers can treat people who are in need of care.  So, mask up, remain socially distanced and wash your hands often.

If you want to express gratitude in additional ways Gennette recommended making a sign. He says health care workers are touched when they see signs in the windows of homes and businesses that praise or encourage their work. He likened these expressions to our country’s longstanding tradition of supporting our military. When people put a sign in the window, health care workers can see how much their work is appreciated.

If you are in a position to give to support health care workers, Gennette says MultiCare Foundations helps to fund its Code Lavender emotional support program for employees. You can donate through this link.

More than anything, Gennette says it’s important to recognize the incredible resilience of health care workers who consistently rise and work to help all of us. He says every day he gets to see the best of humanity at work.