Del Mar resident Pantea Vahidi, a registered nurse at Scripps, started a virtual support group for health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.
Members of the group, “Caring for Those Who Care,” can participate daily through the videoconferencing software Zoom.
“One of the good things about a group call is that people can put their minds and hearts together,” Vahidi said. “It’s a collective remedy.”
About 40 health care workers, including some of Vahidi’a colleagues, have participated so far. It’s open to health care workers around the world.
“I’ve always been more interested in caring for the person’s soul, and I’ve always known that it’s equally important to care for the soul and not just for the body,” Vahidi said.
Even when there isn’t a public health crisis, she added, many health care workers like to confide in their colleagues about the challenges they face on the job. The virtual support group was designed to give them that venue, even though public health measures like social distancing making it harder to communicate.
“Even the strongest of people need emotional support,” Vahidi said. “I think while a lot of the focus is always on physical support and making sure people have the supplies, and have the equipment and have the workforce, I think a lot of times emotional needs are not given that much weight.”
Over the past year, she had been researching emotional support and its connection to physical health. The current public health crisis gave her an opportunity to use that knowledge.
“This was not a one-time, random epiphany I had,” she said. “It’s been in the making.”
Many nurses and other healthcare workers have been working despite a lack of personal protective equipment, leaving them more vulnerable to infection. Those with families have had to isolate themselves to avoid putting their loved ones at risk. There have also been media reports about nurses dying by suicide after succumbing to the pressures, especially in Europe, which has been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
“It’s more than just, ‘Oh, they’re stressed and anxious.’ It’s now creeping up to a level that it’s claiming lives,” Vahidi said.
The number of deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has surpassed 100,000 worldwide. In San Diego County, the number of confirmed cases is in the thousands.
Public health guidelines, including shelter-in-place and social distancing, were designed to slow the spread and the influx of patients for the benefit of health care workers. Vahidi added that Scripps Memorial, where she works, was prepared before the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in San Diego.
“They started preparing very early on, long before it hit San Diego,” she said. “They’re very well-prepared with tents outside, with redirecting patient populations and clearing out sections of the hospital to anticipate COVID patients coming in.”
She’s been staying home over the past few weeks to take care of her three children, who have been home since the school closures.
Vahidi has been a nurse for a little more than three years. Before that, she was a computer engineer, but decided to make the transition because she was “a caregiver at heart.”
“I believe it’s my calling to take care of people both emotionally and physically and on a soul level,” she said.
Registration for the support group is free.