5 CRC Healthcare Workers Share What’s Breaking Their Hearts (Listen Up, Churches)

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, those working in healthcare press on in the fight against this awful virus. Many healthcare jobs have changed or expanded, often with very little additional training. The emotional and physical cost of trying to alleviate the suffering is enormous. 

Over the past week or so I've had the chance to connect with several members of the CRC working in healthcare roles across the US and Canada. The stories they shared were sobering and their compassion inspiring.

I'm grateful to each of these individuals for sharing and I hope we might all learn from their words. 

Bethany, The Journey (Kitchener, ON) 

Job: Public Health Manager (responsible for all incoming calls/inquires in Waterloo Region related to COVID-19)

What aspects of your job break your heart? 
It breaks my heart when we hear about people in tough situations, but we just can't help them (either because we don't know the answer or we can't advise them).

What is one thing you wish people knew about working in healthcare during this pandemic? 
It's not just visible, frontline workers who are working hard—there are many people in the background working tirelessly on behalf of the community. For example, in Public Health, we have Inspectors, Epidemiologists, Admin staff, Data Entry staff, Researchers, Project Coordinators, Managers/Supervisors, Health Information Analysts, and Tech Support staff. We don't have all the answers, and things change all the time based on what we discover collectively. Changing information does not mean that the advice is not trustworthy. Finally, we are all experiencing the pandemic differently. Some people have no work, some work more than ever. Some businesses have been hard hit; some are thriving. We need to make decisions based on the collective good of the community, not the select needs of a few.

What is one way the church can support those working in health care at this time?
Continue to pray for wisdom and innovation for all the workers. Pray that people will heed the Public Health advice, putting the community's needs above their own. Demonstrate patience and grace with everyone, just as Jesus modeled it for us.

Sarah, Covenant CRC (Edmonton, AB)

Job: I am a Clinical Nurse Educator in the Intensive Care Unit at our community hospital. In my role I work with the leadership team to develop pandemic planning, roll out initiatives, and provide training and education. This spring, as we prepared for a surge in patients, I orientated more than 80 staff to our ICU, facilitated a move to a bigger unit, and simultaneously provided patient care.

What aspects of your job are hard to leave at work? 
As this work was ongoing for months, it was very hard to "turn it off" and leave it at work. I often came home exhausted and worried that my relationships with my preschool-aged son and husband would be affected. Information was changing so rapidly that sometimes if I missed a management meeting, I would be hearing significant updates via the news later that evening. And a lot of work had to be redone as information changed (remember when the public health agencies did not recommend cloth masks?) It was like that, but on a much larger scale.

What aspects of your job break your heart?
One of the most devastating parts of working in an ICU during this pandemic was the visitor restrictions. I understand the premise and the essential need to protect our staff, but to limit family presence to our critically ill patients was incredibly difficult.

What is one thing you wish people knew about working in healthcare during this pandemic? 
I wish more people understood that healthcare workers don't have an agenda. This is not a political issue for us. The stories we are sharing are our everyday views, not 'one off' occurrences.

What is one way the church can support those working in health care at this time?
Though I appreciated the many messages and letters of support during this time, I barely had time to read them. One of the most compassionate things that was done for me and my family was having a meal delivered to us. I was feeling so guilty about spending less quality time with my family, the fact that a neighbour recognized this was wonderful.

Tami, Silver Spring CRC (Silver Spring, MD) 

Job: School Community Health Nurse for Department of Health and Human Services of Montgomery County, MD

What aspects of your job break your heart? 
After schools closed I had to work at our county call center which was setup specifically to answer any questions related to COVID-19. I was also asked to do contact tracing as well (and thus spoke with many, many people over the course of this past year). The stories I heard from people in our county were so heartbreaking. People had real concerns and challenges and what made it hard and broke my heart was I couldn't help them over just one phone call. The isolation and the fear for health, safety, and meeting basic needs were so real for so many and I think what made it so hard was knowing I couldn’t help them all. Our resources were stretched thin and there were so many needs; it was overwhelming. This made me sad and was something I took back home with me and left me wishing I could have helped each and every one in a tangible way.     

What is one thing you wish people knew about working in healthcare during this pandemic?
I think the biggest thing I wish people knew working during this time is we are asked to do things that are outside our normal job. My role was a school nurse, which involved taking care of immediate student needs in the school setting. But when schools closed and we were needed elsewhere we were asked to stretch ourselves doing jobs that we had to learn on the job. For me in particular, I went from being a school nurse taking care of students to being assigned to our county call center where we would get phone calls about anything from how to get food assistance to where to get COVID testing to how to isolate. And things were ever changing. We had to learn on the go and then turn around and be the expert to everyone else. The thing about science is you take what you know, test it, and then revise your actions based on the outcomes. Therefore, not only did we need to change and revise how we cared for people and what advice we gave them on a day to day basis, we also had to defend the ‘why’ of changing recommendations and guidelines. This was difficult—especially at the beginning when everything was changing daily. 

What is one way the church can support those working in health care at this time? 
I'm not sure I can pick one way the church can support us. Prayer is always the first and easiest way. Another thing churches can do is to offer to help people with food, clothing, and financial assistance (to take the burden of assisting in those basic needs off the healthcare system). Those needs are so interwoven in peoples health and well being and when a patient or person in the community is supported in tangible ways it helps with physical health as well. The last thing I would say is to support science. We need to do everything we can to lessen the burden on our healthcare system overall. By listening to scientific guidelines—such as wearing masks and limiting gatherings—we can slow the spread and in turn support our health care providers. We as a church can set an example for others to see our love and caring for our neighbors. We’ve done this through having a food pantry at our for our neighbors in need. Also, we can shift our church's focus to hybrid (both in person and virtual) worship, where we as a church could set up a safe environment for those who wanted to worship in person and to accommodate those who felt more comfortable worshipping virtually. I realize it is not easy but I believe God has given us science to integrate with our faith helping us love our congregation and our neighbors at this incredible time in our world.

Carrie-Anne, Covenant CRC (Edmonton, AB) 

Job: I have been a registered nurse for 30 years, and have held various jobs at the Misericordia Community Hospital over those 30 years. I am currently working as a Transition Coordinator, which is basically discharge planning (on a busy medical unit). It is not direct patient care, but still very involved with patients and families that need my assistance for home care, extra rehab referrals, or placement into an alternate level of care. 

What aspects of your job break your heart?
The part of the job that has been hardest during this pandemic is dealing with the families that can't see their loved ones in hospital because of visiting restrictions. Where we would have had family conferences in-hospital before, everything now has to be done over the phone or email.

What is one way the church can support those working in health care at this time?
What I think the church can do for us is continue to pray for all healthcare workers, patients, and families during this difficult time, and follow the pandemic guidelines and government restrictions to help prevent the situation getting worse.

Sara, Bethany CRC (Gallup, NM) 

Job: Lead RN at hotel-based COVID shelter (monitoring 50 to 75 guests who are quarantined from their families) 

What aspects of your job are hard to leave at work?
Wondering if we made the right decisions in accepting guests or turning them away. 

What aspects of your job break your heart?
Talking with guests and having them share a list of family members who have died from COVID. Sending people who are hypoxic to the ER, knowing they might wait out in the cold for hours before being seen or getting oxygen. 

What is one thing you wish people knew about working in healthcare during this pandemic?
Most of the healthcare workers I know have been traumatized by the caring for people with COVID and have been traumatized by not being able to do enough to care for people with COVID. Most keep showing up at great cost to their own physical and mental health. When people outside of our work environments deny science and refuse to follow very simple guidelines to protect themselves and others, it multiplies that trauma. When working with people with COVID, we know all too well the heartbreak and hardship of families and loved ones being separated in order to try and stop the spread. We do our best to step into that void and to love our patients as if they are our own sisters, fathers, aunts, or grandparents. 

What is one way the church can support those working in health care at this time?
The church can support healthcare workers by believing us. There are many things we cannot talk about but when we tell you it is exhausting, heartbreaking, and traumatizing to go on, we need to be heard. Listen to our vague stories and see the tears rolling down and the cracks in our voices. Do not offend us with statements such as faith over fear, which in my opinion has often come to mean trust in God but ignore science. God gave us brains and scientists and vaccines. Healthcare workers have been running toward the fire for months. We are shaken but not afraid. Our faith is strong. Please wear masks, physically distance, and get vaccinated. We need prayers. One thing that means the world to healthcare providers are small tokens of appreciation, i.e. handwritten notes, chocolate, gifts cards for coffee, chapstick, hand lotion, etc. Many of us have spent countless hours away from our families. Others have moved out. We are fighting COVID with everything we’ve got.

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We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Thank you for this; it is helpful to have this front-line perspective.

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Thank you! I've shared this wonderful posting on my own personal social media. It's been such a blessing and much-needed encouragement to some CRC medical staff.

Staci, Thank you so much for taking the time to research this and write it up. Very relevant and well done. We can all learn from these experiences.

Thank you so much for sharing these stories, prayers that churches will listen