September 19, 2020

Pain, fear and guilt undermine residential workers

The physical and emotional exhaustion of the staff of the residences has caused symptoms of post-traumatic stress in many cases. They are torn between the “threat of their own lives and that of their families, and blame for the deaths of the elderly” by the coronavirus, the workers themselves report.

María José Bedoya, nursing assistant, confesses that she had a “very bad” time. Minutes after the interview with Efe, she calls crying: “A colleague in the ICU has died of the coronavirus.” The threat has come true.

Nursing homes – for the elderly and for people with disabilities – have been one of the main centers of COVID-19 in Spain and the elderly who have died have accounted for almost 40 percent of all deaths in communities such as Madrid.

María José Bedoya works in a public residence and remembers that at the beginning of the pandemic some colleagues suffered “panic attacks” and were discharged. In March, “the worst was not only the absence of protective equipment but of action protocols,” he summarizes.

Equipment that is to be used and thrown away has arrived today, but “they are reused after disinfecting them with bleach, and until a few days ago, colleagues have been wearing the same mask for 20 or 25 days,” he adds.

Through private donations, a lot of material reaches these centers, however, María José wonders to what extent homemade masks or protective gowns made with garbage bags and duct tape are effective.

“The emotional charge,” he says, “is brutal. You know that with the tools you have you are not doing well, and you ask yourself: Will I be taking the virus from this room to the next room?”

In his opinion, the attention of the administrations has been late and insufficient. “From minute zero we saw that the doors had to be closed. We have never had fifteen deaths in a month.”

Amelia, a nursing assistant in a concerted residence, shares this last opinion and asks herself angrily: “Why didn’t the residences close before Spain closed?”

Now, he says he is “pretty good”, but the first weeks, he admits that they were hard because – he indicates – they did not know how to act: “We are healthcare centers, not hospitals.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic there were many casualties, of a staff of 22 auxiliaries we were nine in a week,” he recalls.

Amelia points to a figure, 30,000 infected toilets, but “how many nursing assistants will be infected?” She asks. “No one cares about us,” he regrets, although he stresses that in his center they have been twelve days without death. “Before, the dripping was constant,” he stresses.


The workers “above all feel frustration because they want to reach everything and cannot because they are limited in means and resources,” explains the coordinator of Psychology at the López Ibor clinic, Beatriz Mora.

In the same sense, the Professor of Psychology at Complutense and coordinator of the psychological assistance telephone number of the Ministry of Health and the General Council of Psychology of Spain, Paz García Vera, believes that problems of stress and emotion management also obey Because it is a group of professionals “very involved in their work, just like the health workers.”

After strenuous days, they fail to disconnect when they get home and find it difficult to fall asleep, because the images are crowded into his head. “We detect a lot of post-traumatic stress,” stresses Beatriz Mora, also coordinator of psychological support in the residences of the Orpea group, which has registered deaths in several of its 23 centers in Madrid.

In the opinion of García Vera, the staff of the residences live a risky situation on the front line due to the threat to their own lives and that of their families, and feel guilty for the deaths of the elderly, according to the workers themselves on the phone support, which receives an average of more than 300 calls a day.

“They are having a terrible time. Many times they feel guilty because they think if they have transmitted the virus or if they could have done better,” he adds. Others say that they do not feel prepared to return to the residence and face absences.

With people who express guilt, explains the specialist, they do “brief therapy so that they understand that guilt is an emotion that appears when you think you could have controlled the situation, but you cannot feel guilty for something you did not know was going to happen. happen. Sometimes people have an illusion of controlling everything. “

When this crisis is overcome, the psychologist at the López Ibor clinic believes that “more in-depth treatment will be necessary; there will be people who with their own resources will be able to reset themselves, but it will take specific intervention to restore balance.”

“We make interventions from you to you, as close as possible. We encourage them to show their vulnerability, because they do not allow it when considering that they have to be at the foot of the canyon; they do not identify the warning signs that their body is launching; they forget to go to the bathroom, to eat. “


In the opinion of the UGT Health, Social Health and Dependency Secretary, Gracia Álvarez, the crisis has revealed “how fair the staff are,” as well as the remuneration they receive.

And it is questioned where is the border between the sanitary and the social: “When we think about the sanitary part we always see it from the point of view of diseases, but health is not exactly its absence.”

There comes a time when “it is not possible to avoid pathologies and you have to live with them”, so he makes a request and reflects aloud:

“Nurses specializing in geriatrics are needed and to stop seeing nursing as the one that limits itself to giving injections, the essential thing is more care.”

By Marina Segura


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