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Covenant Health marks pandemic's anniversary with focus on staff well-being

March Online

March 11 was the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization's declaration that the COVID-19 outbreak was a global pandemic. Since then, in the U.S. alone, there have been more than 29 million COVID cases and more than half a million deaths.

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These cranes are part of an art installation at St. Joseph Healthcare-Hospital in Bangor, Maine. The art commemorates losses employees have sustained during the pandemic.

Covenant Health of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, is among ministry organizations commemorating the milestone with efforts centered on the spiritual and emotional restoration of staff.

Covenant's three hospitals and 12 long-term care facilities are hosting activities with the common theme of reflecting on the hardship, loss and courage of the past year, while building resilience to move forward healthfully.

Veronica Marchese is vice president of mission integration for Covenant's St. Joseph Healthcare-Hospital in Bangor, Maine. She said the hospital has planned multiple months of programming with a focus on staff and community wellness.

In an electronic survey, St. Joseph asked employees to name loved ones who died in the past year and identify other types of pandemic-related losses, such as lost normalcy or the need to refrain from hugging each other. Each response is being printed on a white square of paper that artists are folding into origami cranes.

The artists will use the cranes to create about a dozen pieces of art for display throughout the hospital and its ambulatory clinic. Eventually, the individual artworks will be combined in a single art installation at the hospital.

"Part of healing and of grieving loss is naming the losses, and this is essential in moving forward toward healing," Marchese said. The origami cranes, which St. Joseph blessed in a ceremony March 10, are symbol of unity, hope and healing, she added.

Also this month, St. Joseph is engaging employees in "21 days of resilience." St. Joseph's mission department is issuing emails throughout the month with "micro-actions" that build resiliency. Examples included taking some time each day to breathe deeply in a moment of mindfulness, take a short walk outdoors, or pause for a quiet moment of prayer and gratitude.

Marchese said health care staff have internalized chronic stress, anxiety and trauma during the pandemic. Meditation and prayer can build inner strength to release and resolve that trauma.

Now that COVID caseloads are falling and vaccines are being widely distributed, many in health care may feel like they are "coming out of a fog," she said. "We don't want to just focus on the sadness and grief of the last year, but we do want to acknowledge the losses and get through this in a healthy way. We are talking about hope."

 

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