coronavirus illinois

Caring for the Caregivers: Medical Providers Battling Stress of COVID-19 Pandemic

Anxiety levels increase as hospital looks to help medical staff

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At Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital, more and more medical providers are finding themselves in need of help themselves.

The stress of caring for patients with the coronavirus has caused an increase in those seeking relief from what can be described as either anxiety or a type of post-traumatic stress.

“I would say we've seen at least a two-fold if not three-fold increase in people in general who are just experiencing symptoms,” said Dr. Paul Berkowitz, chair of psychiatry at the hospital. “What we've done is made behavioral health services available to all of our caregivers.”

Symptoms of the stress levels, he said, include anxiety attacks, sleep disruption such as nightmares and emotional outbursts.

At Mount Sinai on Chicago’s West Side, every available ICU bed is in use. But that’s only part of the story.

“I think the scarier part is that we're seeing sicker and sicker and I'm even going to add younger and younger patients,” said Dr. Jaime Moreno, the medical director at the hospital.

A trauma center, Mount Sinai is also on the frontline of Chicago’s other pandemic: gun violence.  

Shootings, according to police statistics, are up 20 percent over the same period last year.

“So now when we have a gunshot victim come in, we also have to test them for COVID,” said nurse Raquel Prendkowski, who is in charge of emergency preparedness at the hospital. “And they're having a positive (test) for COVID.”

The normal stress on the staff is enormous. Now, with the state’s expected coronavirus peak moved to between mid-May and mid-June, there are increased tensions.

“Now it's really starting to grind,” said Prendkowski. “The caregivers are tired. They are very tired. They are caring for very sick patients.”

“I think everybody presents a little bit differently,” said Moreno. “Sometimes you just get home and they might think you're moody or just tired and you kind of are. You're just exhausted from the day. I actually tell my wife that sometimes I'm brain dead by the time I get home.”

This week, doctors and nurses at the hospital paused as U.S. Navy’s Blue Angel soared above Chicago.

Prendkowski watched with great anticipation.  

“It was beautiful,” she said. “We each felt that it was individually for us. That was really amazing.”

But that was just a moment in time.  

“We all get it that this is a very distressing time,” said Berkowitz. “So, we want to make sure that they've got a place to be heard, a place to let their emotions out, to know that it's a safe place, that there's no judgment, that they just got a place where they're getting support.”

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