COVID BLOG #10: Impact of SARS-COV-2 pandemic on mental health of Long-term Care Facility Personnel in Poland – recommendations
Extraordinary concerns and considerable challenges for public health due to SARS-CoV-2 pandemic aroused interest of researchers around the world. This resulted in a surge of data exploring the social and health care situation, including the situation of older adults, people living with dementia and those providing formal and informal care for them.
Currently, when European countries experience the second wave of coronavirus infections, the conclusions drawn from the studies conducted during the first wave of the pandemic are gaining value. Their outcomes can serve as ready-made guidelines for dealing with the current SARS-COV-2 impact on dementia care, and also constitute the basis for follow-up research intended to analyse the long-term consequences of this precedential situation.
As a research team based at Wroclaw Medical University, aware of the alarming reports on psychological burden among healthcare workers, we focussed on the mental health of employees of long-term care facilities (LTCF) in Poland. This group of workers was, and still is, particularly exposed to psychological distress caused by the pandemic. It is mostly because of the fact that people who receive their care, mostly older adults and people living with dementia, are considered to be the most vulnerable and at the highest risk of COVID-19 infection consequences.
We have put assessment of psychological consequences (psychopathological symptoms, anxiety and sleep disturbances) associated with the exposure of LTCF employees to the SARS-CoV-2 crisis in the spotlight. We also intended to evaluate if specific factors such as access to personal protective equipment (PPE) or mental health support at the workplace could modify the level of psychological distress experienced by the personnel.
We gathered 178 questionnaires anonymously completed by LTCF staff from all over Poland between May and June 2020. Employees providing daily care for LTCF residents diagnosed with COVID-19, reported more psychopathological symptoms than employees who have had no direct contact with infected people. In our study group, almost 40% of the LTCF employees had relevant psychopathological symptoms; in over 40% of them anxiety symptoms were present. Sleep disturbances were experienced by almost 40% of respondents. Our results are in line with other studies which emphasised the vulnerability of health-care workers to develop psychopathological symptoms during the coronavirus pandemic.
Signals about the psychological burden among LTCF staff directly involved in care for residents during the current coronavirus crisis are worrying. However, even in this difficult situation, there is something what can be done to improve well-being of LTCF personnel. Our study revealed that work conditions can help in maintaining good mental condition and protect LTCF staff from developing psychopathological symptoms. Ensuring by the employer the appropriate protection equipment in the workplace and getting access to psychological support proved to be important components in reducing the level of psychological distress. Based on our study outcomes, we have developed recommendations for LTCF in Poland as presented in the infographic below.
The listed Poland-based institutional factors turned out to be important aspects mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic across LTCF personnel. We believe that those recommendations could also inform the employers and policy makers managing LTCF throughout Europe and around the world. We wish that the research outcomes from the first wave of the pandemic will serve as a building block towards formulation of evidence-based and as well-tailored answers to the current phase of coronavirus infections. Taking care of mental well-being of LTCF personnel is a fundamental step which can protect the long-term care systems from collapsing.
Authors: Maria Maćkowiak & Marta Ciułkowicz, Department of Psychiatry, Wroclaw Medical University, Wroclaw, Poland on behalf of Adrianna Senczyszyn, Katarzyna Lion, Dorota Szcześniak, Elżbieta Trypka, Justyna Mazurek, Marta Duda-Sikuła, Renata Wallner & Joanna Rymaszewska