There is no denying the fear and anxiety that frontline staff are experiencing as they race to care for COVID-19 patients. It is a part of their job, but one that puts them at risk for contracting a serious disease that is not yet well-understood. Most are acutely aware of this risk.

Several staff members at Northwell Health, a 23-hospital system headquartered in Manhattan, have fallen ill. One died.

“You have to think about how you are going to support the staff through this,” noted Mark Jarrett, MD, MBA, senior vice president, chief quality officer, and deputy chief medical officer at Northwell Health. “Get your employee assistance program and your behavioral health team in to provide support because people [may] be losing friends and colleagues. This is especially true of frontline staff.”

These employees are living in their personal protective equipment (PPE), and they are witnessing people of all ages go through terrible courses of illness.

“They are going to burn out otherwise,” observed Jarrett, who spoke during a briefing sponsored by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) on March 31.

Before the pandemic emerged, leaders at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, NY, had formed what they call “code lavender” teams for instances in which staff members may have seen or been involved with some type of crisis.

“We have invoked a code lavender team, our crisis management team, to assist in caring for our team. We also created virtual meditation spaces and virtual telehealth spaces for staff members,” shared Carol Gomes, chief executive officer and chief operating officer, during the PCORI briefing. “It is so important to support staff. They are, every day, coming to work, trying to take care of patients in an untenable situation.”

Peter Viccellio, MD, FACEP, vice chair of the department of emergency medicine at Stony Brook Medicine, is particularly concerned about nurses, and he urged colleagues to make sure they are responding to their needs.

“[Nurses] have the most exposure to these patients, so you need to take care of them more than you ever have,” he stressed during a different PCORI briefing held on April 7. “If you hear there is something they need, take care of it that day. Don’t make one-off gestures. Think of things you can do every day and every shift to let them know what gratitude you have.”

Viccellio’s advice to physicians is to personally thank each nurse with whom they work each day. “Tell them what a great job they did,” he advised. “You have no idea how much it may mean to them.”