‘Having that group was incredible’: MASStrong for Healthcare Workers Participant Shares Story
In her work as a home health care aide, Latoya Cromartie works closely with her clients, assisting them with vital daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and preparing meals. It is physical work to be sure, but it is emotionally taxing, too. Most of her clients are elderly, living with disabilities, or recovering from illness or injury.
During the worst years of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 and 2021, most of her clients were completely isolated from their family members and other loved ones. Oftentimes, Latoya, who works for an agency that supports the efforts of people with disabilities to live as independently as possible, was the only other person they would see in the course of a day. As a result, she became an even more important presence in their lives, and took on the task of listening to her clients’ frustrations and fears.
“I tried to stay positive for them, but it was stressful,” she says.
Although she occasionally thought of parting ways with more demanding clients, she never did.
“I knew if I left them they probably wouldn’t have anybody else anytime soon, and I didn’t want to see them go without care.”
The desire to remain emotionally available to her clients while also managing the stress it causes led Latoya to take part in the MASStrong for Healthcare Workers pilot program, which provided group-based mental healthcare support to approximately 60 nursing home aides, home health workers, personal care attendants, and long-term care aides working in Massachusetts in November and December 2022.
The pilot consisted of three group-based mental health sessions using the GPS model, an evidence-based model of group care that draws on cognitive behavioral and interpersonal therapies, mindfulness-based stress reduction, motivational interviewing and psycho-social education. The sessions were led by two facilitators certified in using the GPS model. Offered in partnership with the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety, MASStrong for Healthcare Workers is funded by the Commonwealth with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The program was launched to mitigate the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline healthcare workers, who have experienced elevated rates of depression, PTSD, insomnia, and other mental health issues and dramatic increases in their rates of job-related illness and injury and moral injury that have resulted in steep staffing shortages that continue to persist throughout the healthcare industry.
“Having that group, even though we just met three times, was incredible,” says Latoya, who works in Greater Boston and attended the sessions via Zoom. “It was good to have my own little group of friends who understood exactly where I was coming from.”
Latoya says that worrying about the mental health of her clients, especially those that don’t have much contact with family, takes a toll. “I know they aren’t going to hurt themselves, but I do sometimes worry that they will fall into depression, so I just try to give them positive ways to look at life,” she says.
“Sometimes when I’m giving them that advice I think I should take it myself,” she adds, laughing. “I know I’m a lot stronger than they are, but sometimes it just weighs on me.”
The ability to discuss the hazards of the job—the risks to her own health during the pandemic before vaccines were available, the vulnerability associated with visiting patients alone in neighborhoods that feel unsafe, the dilemma of what to do when she needed to take a sick day but knew if she did her client would likely go without care that day—was helpful, said Latoya.
“I think it’s very important to have support like that,” she says. “Being able to share my stories with people who get it and were going through similar things was so helpful. Even when I didn’t have problems to talk about, I looked forward to meeting with a group of people that I could relate to. I would think that maybe that week I was going to cheer somebody else up. Because cheering someone else up also feels good.”
Several times, Latoya recalls, other group members would be in tears as they shared work-related challenges they did not feel they could discuss elsewhere. “That time where they could just dump a lot of stuff out, it was just like, ‘Wow, this is really serious.”
When asked how she would have improved the program, Latoya has a quick answer: “Offer more sessions!”
MASStrong for Healthcare Workers is now enrolling up to 1,300 frontline healthcare workers in a new round of group-based mental health support sessions that will be offered via Zoom. Sessions will be available in English and Spanish. Each session will last 90 minutes and participants who complete a survey after each session will be given a gift card. . Information on how to register will be posted to our website soon.