Groote Schuur wellness team caring for the carers

The Groote School Hospital’s wellness team, back from left, are Michelle Appolis, Madenia Hoosain, Alaric Jacobs, Louise Frenkel, Misha Naik and Lenore Fredericks. Front: Lisl Mullins, Noluvo Mqushulu and Tracy Lee Genau.

A team of counsellors and therapists is helping Groote Schuur staff cope with the fear, stress, grief and other torments that come with working on the Covid-19 front line.

The “wellness team”, as it’s called, has been giving staff both mental and physical support since May last year.

The 15-member team works closely with the hospital’s occupational health clinic and its department of psychology and psychiatry.

Occupational therapist Misha Naik, who heads the team, says the front-line staff are seen as heroes, but they are also humans who need support in difficult times.

“The idea behind the programme is to offer mental-health support to all health-care workers and create a tolerance towards mental health.”

Staff faced grief and growing anxiety as they had started losing colleagues and loved ones, she says.

The hospital now has a psychologist to support staff, and the wellness team is planning to provide mental-health first-aid training for managers. “It is so that they can recognise when their colleagues are stressed and encourage them to seek support,” says Ms Naik.

Lisl Mullins, the team’s wellness coordinator, says there are plans to start a gym, and the team arranges classes in yoga, self-defence and Biodanza.

There’s a booking system for staff who need help, and Ms Mullins says webcams in all the Covid-19 wards offer “virtual counselling” to staff there.

Since last May, 416 employees sought individual counselling, and there were 340 different group sessions involving some 1600 employees.

Kashiefa Jongie, an admin clerk in the occupational therapy department, has used the counselling service.

“I had Covid-19 last September, and my brother and parents also picked up the virus. I was feeling stressed so I needed someone to speak to.”

She also took part in yoga classes and Biodanza classes.

Another staff member, who prefers not to be named, says the wellness team arranged group counselling last year when she lost a co-worker to Covid-19.

“We could share the grief that we were experiencing, and we could also book individual sessions where we would do counselling through the webcam.”

Ms Naik says it is important that health-care workers know where to get help. “By establishing a dedicated team, we are hoping to create a culture where accessing support is an ongoing process.”