Working in healthcare can be emotionally distressing at the best of times. Healthcare workers can experience strong emotional, physical, cognitive, or behavioural responses to events or to the stress of their workplace. When a patient safety incident happens, the physical and mental wellness of healthcare workers is often forgotten, which could have an impact on the quality and safety of patient care.
"Peer support programs, where healthcare workers can discuss their experiences in a non-judgmental environment with colleagues who can relate to what they are going through, is recognized as the most desired model of support to ensure the psychological safety of healthcare workers," says Amy Pack, Senior Program Manager at the Canadian Patient Safety Institute. "The challenges emerging from COVID-19 has amplified the need for peer support programs across all healthcare settings and professions."
CPSI's Creating a Safe Space manuscript provides a comprehensive overview of peer support programs available in Canada, along with best practice guidelines, tools and resources. These are intended to assist policy makers, accreditation bodies, regulators, and healthcare leaders assess what healthcare workers need in terms of support, and to create the programs to fill those needs.
Working with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, CPSI is now compiling a global environmental scan of support programs currently available throughout the world. This information will be used to update two sections of the Creating a Safe Space manuscript – the Global scan in Section 2, and the Toolkit of available tools and resources in Section 5. The update will be available by Fall 2020. A sixth module has also been commissioned with researchers from the University of Alberta, to look at best practices for patients and healthcare workers to work together and heal through conversation following a patient safety incident. The new module will be available in the Spring of 2021.
Despite an increase in peer support programs and supporting resources emerging in Canada, national standardization across such programs has yet to be established. A recognition program is being developed to recognize leaders providing support to their healthcare workers and hopefully encourage consistency and quality in standardization of programs.
"We want healthcare providers to step back and take care of themselves, knowing that is better caring for their patients," adds Amy Pack. "Unfortunately, most healthcare workers are not aware of the programs that are available to them. To help support healthcare workers globally, we want to shine a light on the programs that can be used as models in your own organization. You can become a champion in establishing a program at your healthcare facility by simply starting a conversation with your organization's administration and peers raising awareness for the importance of psychological safety and wellbeing among the healthcare workforce. This small first step makes the effort manageable and worthwhile."
The Canadian Peer Support Network is helping providers from health and social care institutions of all sizes by creating a community where resources and advice is shared on how to best leverage internal experts and champions to establish a peer support network. For more information on existing peer to peer support programs and how to set them up, refer to the Best Practices (Section 4) of the Creating a Safe Space manuscript and the Toolkit.