Covid-19 in Gauteng: Support ramped up for healthcare workers as pressure mounts

A medical worker in Diepsloot.
A medical worker in Diepsloot.
ER Lombard/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Five healthcare workers in Gauteng have died of Covid-19.
  • External and internal counselling services are being offered.
  • Staff who have to self-isolate are provided with support.

As pressure mounts on Gauteng hospitals to cope with the current surge in Covid-19 cases, hospitals in both the public and private sector are offering counselling and other psychosocial support to healthcare workers.

The health department is using an external service provider to offer therapy to healthcare workers in need.

Private hospital groups Netcare, Mediclinic and Life Healthcare are also offering various forms of counselling to healthcare workers and, in some cases, finding ways to ease the workload of, particularly, nursing staff.

READ | Covid-19: Gauteng's hospitals feeling the strain - but not yet full

At a ceremony recognising Gauteng healthcare workers on Tuesday, Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku said the province had lost five healthcare workers to Covid-19.

On Thursday, the Gauteng health department will launch a "chaplaincy" programme, in conjunction with various faith-based organisations, to provide support to healthcare workers, said Kwara Kekana, Masuku's spokesperson.

"The department has a service provider that renders psychological counselling and therapeutic interventions to the health workers and their families," Kekana told News24.

"This is done face-to-face and remotely or even through home visits where possible. The service provider is Careway and this is a transversal GPG (Gauteng provincial government) wide service."

She said the department also has "employee assistant services" in all its facilities to look after the mental and emotional health of employees.

"This renders services in-house for managing the psychosocial stressors in the workplace."

Individual and group sessions

Meanwhile, at Mediclinic, individual and group support sessions have been offered to staff.

Dr Stefan Smuts, chief clinical officer of Mediclinic Southern Africa, said the group has also taken steps to help nurses, in particular, cope with their workloads.

"Operational priorities of nursing staff, particularly, have been relooked, with tasks removed that are not core to clinical care delivery. Staffing structures and quotas have also been reviewed to ensure safe staffing," he said.

Smuts said the group had also launched a wellness website, with resources for staff, and said that staff who are sent home for self-isolation are monitored daily by managers.

READ | Meet those who have struggled with Covid-19 symptoms for more than 100 days

The group also has a volunteer programme in place, which pulls in clinical and non-volunteers to assist in their communities.

"The tasks being performed are diverse, however all ultimately focused on supporting clinical frontline care delivery. We have had an overwhelming response across the country and retired nurses and other community members have arrived for training and orientation to ensure that they are available as and when the hospitals require their assistance," he said.

In-house counselling

Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare's hospital division, said the group's employees have access to a 24/7 free telephonic counselling service from a third-party employee wellness service provider.

Most Netcare hospitals have in-house counselling services as well, he said.

Staff members who need to self-isolate, and those who have tested positive for Covid-19, are being paid in full while absent from work, said Du Plessis.

"Netcare is providing accommodation for staff members, who are unable to self-isolate safely at home, at the company's cost. It is also important to note that any person required to self-isolate because of exposure at work is being granted 'special leave' and the time required to be away will not impact on any other current leave entitlement.

"Staff members in self-isolation are regularly contacted by management team members to monitor their physical and mental well-being."

Netcare has also provided all staff members with the flu vaccine, at the company's cost, to protect them against this seasonal health risk, he said.

Confidential

Life Healthcare has an employee wellness programme, offering unlimited complimentary and confidential counselling services to employees, including doctors, as well as their immediate family members, said the group's general manager for emergency medicine, Dr Charl van Loggerenberg.

This includes emotional support, assistance with financial planning, legal advice and other services, specifically to assist the employees, he said.

Line managers are also in regular contact with staff in quarantine or self-isolation, to monitor their well-being, said Van Loggerenberg.

"Additionally, for those employees who are unable to safely quarantine or isolate at home, the company has made arrangements with a number of B&Bs (or similar) to ensure they can safely and comfortably see out the required isolation period. Meals are also provided for.

"In May 2020, we offered the flu vaccination to all our employees as an additional measure to protect them from the upcoming influenza season," he said.

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