COVIDE-19

TU faculty offer ways to support first responders during COVID-19 crisis

Research from The University of Tulsa looks to help first responders and health care workers as they continue battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

*Pictured is TU alumnae who working on the front lines and facing the virus daily.*

Left to right is Abigail Schmitt, Avery Culpepper, Madeline Oleksiak, Maddy Studebaker and Kaylie Schneider.

The pandemic has changed how millions of Americans work or learn, shifting offices or classrooms to their homes. Despite the mass changes, first responders and health care workers do not have the choice to work from home, and many of them are walking into the front lines of a battle against the virus every day. With those brave people in mind, TU faculty have been doing everything they can to help, including sharing their knowledge and expertise. Elana Newman, McFarlin Professor of Psychology, is an expert in disaster mental health with a specialty in journalism. She worked with journalists in New York for nearly a year after 9/11 and has helped journalists prepare for and respond to many disasters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Journalists and health care workers are two distinct professions, but many common threads run between the two, according to Newman. A lot of the advice she might give a journalist also can apply to health care workers.

“With a pandemic like COVID-19, when these workers are out in the field and interacting with the sick every day, they’re bringing that stress home with them daily,” Newman said. “They question will they get their loved ones sick? Will they harm family members, friends or neighbors? What might they face tomorrow?”

The stress is gripping not only at home but on the job as well. Because of limited equipment and resources, first responders and health care workers are witnessing events that transgress their moral beliefs and expectations. “That leads to something called ‘moral injury,’” Newman said. “It’s unlike PTSD because it is an ethical or spiritual maladaptation, but it manifests in real-world effects like stress, feeling ill, guilt and a lot more.”

Left to right is Sierra Adair, Keli Solomon Miller, Marci Brubaker, Kristen Rodriguez and Michelle Proctor. 

Fortunately, despite the grimness of the circumstances, Newman has advice for anyone working grueling shifts with the sick and dying. “Some of the stuff is obvious: exercise best judgment and be safe. Remember to take care of yourself first and foremost, because if you aren’t well, then you can’t take care of others. It’s also important to take time off, even when things get crazy, for self-care. It’s a way of retaining energy for the long haul, as a boundary and finding pleasure to stay healthy and provide for others.”

She also has tips for anybody else going through this pandemic, explaining that the anxiety many people are feeling is normal, but it can be overcome.

“With so many unknowns, we’re all feeling anxiety, but there are ways to cope with that. Make a list of what you can control and what you can’t control — having a sense of control is important. It’s also important to stay social, even while we are physically distant because as humans we need social interaction,” Newman explained.

She offered one more piece of advice for anybody who is feeling that, because of quarantine, they are not able to live a productive life: “Having a sense of purpose is crucial in times like these, and meaningful things that can be done right now are making masks, sending thank you notes and any other act to express appreciation. Not only will this give a feeling of purpose to the creator, but the product will go toward fighting against COVID-19.”

Dr. Gerard Clancy, TU professor of community medicine, added five other ways that people who are not serving on the front lines of COVID-19 can help. According to Clancy, staying home is the best way to support medical care workers. “The one thing I’m hearing over and over again from leadership in the health care system and physicians is, ‘This is real. If you want to help us, stay home and slow the spread of this virus,’” Clancy said.

For people with extra medical supplies, donating those to the health care system can meet the serious demand. People with the ability to make supplies also is very beneficial. “Every mask, every face shield, every pair of gloves helps a great deal,” he said.

When it comes to interacting with health care workers, Clancy says it is important to understand what they’re going through: “They’re working shifts after shifts. They’re working tons of hours, they’re exhausted, they don’t have the supplies they need and they’re vulnerable to becoming traumatized. Any kind of support you can offer them would be appreciated, but some of the best ways involve listening to them talk about what they’re going to if they want to share but not forcing them to talk about anything if they don’t. Getting a good meal in front of them can go a long way, as well. Good food tastes even better to them, at this point.”

While first responders and health care workers are fighting what is probably the most grueling war of their careers, applying these ideas from TU faculty will send a message to the heroes that they are not alone.