News2020: The Year Everything Changed


Who's caring for the caregivers and medical professionals fighting the pandemic?

Doctors and nurses reaching out for help
Posted at 9:00 AM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 18:12:35-05

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a year when it's been hard to keep track of time, when minutes feel like hours, and days more like weeks, there has been one constant for caregivers: heartache. And now, those same caregivers are reaching out for mental and emotional help to navigate a COVID-19 world.

“It’s been awful to see them (COVID-19 patients) lose their lives, and talk to their families, and have their families not see them when they die. Some of the saddest times,” said Laura Rihvalsky, a registered nurse at MetroHealth in Cleveland.

Those rising to the challenge to treat patients with coronavirus are finding themselves not only in the crosshairs of a devastating disease but now a mental health bullseye.

“We’ve gone through a lot watching these people be very critically ill and die,” Rihvalsky said.

“It’s hard for it to even escape your mind when this is just all we deal with. It really is taking over our lives,” said MetroHealth nurse Michaela Mancuso.

For nurses working on MetroHealth's COVID-19 floor, the tables have turned. Caregivers are now finding themselves in need of care.

“It’s really heartbreaking having to watch someone die alone,” Mancuso said.

The sounds and sights they take home with them are tough for them to even talk about.

"I’ve had to hold an iPad in front of them so their families can see them one last time,” MetroHealth nurse Ada Gazimi said.

While they lean on each other, frontline workers are seeking help despite what their training might have told them.

“Many of them are taught to be stoic in the face of adversity,” said MetroHealth human resources representative Alan Nevele.

The administration at MetroHealth has developed new programs to help.

“We cry, we bleed, we hurt just like anybody else. Taking that first step to say, 'Hey, I need help.' It's not a natural thing to do,” said Nevele.

Among the offerings are virtual book clubs and Spanish lessons.

“We have book clubs that are virtual. We even have a Spanish club for those who want to learn Spanish,” said Nevele.

There's also a resilience circle.

“I essentially hold space for people just to be human,” said Katie Kurtz, a resilience educator at MetroHealth.

With Kurtz’s help, frontline workers identify how they're feeling and talk about it with others.

“Trauma thrives in isolation, resilience thrives in connections,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz provides "COVID as Trauma" training for frontline workers. She said demand for her safe space is increasing.

"I always thank them for showing up, because again, when we show up for ourselves, we show for others,” Kurtz said.

In addition to offering resiliency techniques, MetroHealth gives its staff time to divert their attention away from the stress of the workday.

Doctors like Ted Warren who work in the intensive care unit now get more time off after their shift.

“There’s definitely significantly more stress. The challenges come with the frequency these patients come in,” Warren said. “That’s one of the major things we’re battling, it's the stress and the burnout. As this drags on, this becomes much more difficult and more of a concern."

Until the pandemic ends, the nurses at MetroHealth Hospital said they will keep looking out for each other.

“You know when someone is at their tipping point, when someone needs a break” MetroHealth nurse Shawn Zubek said.