U of C research projects aim to aid staff, residents at long-term care facilities devastated by COVID-19

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“These are our parents. These are the people who helped us, and we need to help them and improve the care we can provide for them,” Goodarzi said.

“Everybody in health care, across family doctors’ offices to long-term care, is working as hard as they can but the resources and processes are challenging.”

Dr. Zahra Goodarzi, MD, is working to develop a protocol for older adults in long-term care living in a state of frailty (an underdiagnosed aging-related syndrome of physiological decline), which will help staff recognize the syndrome and initiate early palliative care when necessary. Photo by O’Brien Institute for Public Health/ University of Calgary

Dr. Bonnie Lashewicz, the associate professor at the U of C’s department of community health sciences, is leading a project focusing on another area of long-term care.

A former long-term care worker herself, Lashewicz’s research aims to understand the mental-health needs of workers at the facilities to better provide them with supports.

“What we are is really dedicated, skilled relational workers … walking side by side with other human beings through some of the most profound experiences of their lives, including incapacitation and illness and death,” she said.

“Certainly, that workforce is susceptible to stress-related injuries and anxiety and exhaustion, things that we might put under the framing of post-traumatic stress.”

Lashewicz is working alongside five long-term care sites in Calgary, Okotoks and Edmonton. Her team is talking with workers at the sites to understand the unique challenges of their jobs, including tough scenarios during the COVID-19 pandemic such as having to restrict family access to their loved ones during end-of-life situations.

The study will take into account the experiences of nursing staff as well as lesser-considered but equally essential long-term care workers, including food services, housekeeping and hairdressing staff. Lashewicz’s team will then pilot mental-health tool kits for the workers.

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