Where to find support for grief and loss as a remote aged care worker

Where to find support for grief and loss as a remote aged care worker

Aged care workers in rural and remote areas face a number of unique challenges, but one often-forgotten possibility in dealing with the death of a resident is the grief and loss felt when a staff member has close personal connections.

In small towns and rural areas, tight-knit communities are commonplace. Friends and family are often one in the same and many locals choose to remain as close to home as possible when they get older.

Many staff want the same and they choose to work close to home. As a result, National Rural Health Alliance Chairperson, Nicole O’Reilly, said the closeness between aged care staff and the people they care for can blur personal and professional boundaries.

“We know that in our small particularly remote towns, but also in our smaller rural towns and inter-regional towns, the population is obviously much more entangled as they live and work with each other,” said Ms O’Reilly.

Workers who are already under the pump due to a range of factors, such as being under-resourced at work, are likely to have fewer opportunities to address their own mental health and well-being.

“We have experienced challenges with the workforce and filling vacant positions and grief adds an extra element to the difficulty that our workforce experiences. In a regional setting where the workforce is already stretched, there’s probably increased hours being worked.”

“When you have a personal relationship [with a resident] that means you have to manage two different types of relationships, potentially with the family and with yourself in terms of managing grief. That is an extra burden on our workforce.”

Resources are always available

  • The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) should be the first point of call as it provides counselling and support services for personal and professional concerns
  • CRANAplus is the peak body for Australia’s remote and isolated health workforce
  • They offer well-being workshops and online resources and references for remote healthcare workers
  • All healthcare professionals, including aged care workers, can also call the confidential Bush Support Line for 24/7 support
  • Nurse and Midwife Support and DRS4DRS provide specific support for nurses and doctors

Pam Edwards, Executive Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing, CRANAplus, said it’s more acceptable than ever to have conversations about mental health to ensure your own well-being is looked after.

“One positive out of the pandemic has been the acceptability of delivering support and education online,” Ms Edwards said.

“CRANAplus now delivers free virtual well-being workshops to any rural or remote health workplace across Australia, something which was not possible pre-pandemic.”

“These workshops provide an opportunity for workers to check in on their own well-being and consider strategies to keep themselves well.”

Ms Edwards said accessible mental health services are essential when dealing with death and trauma in a small community as close connections do lead to an increased emotional burden for rural and remote workers.

“This is amplified in rural and remote communities where health workers can have long-standing or close connections with members of their community, as friends, family members or colleagues.”

“That connection is often one of the more rewarding aspects of the job, caring for and supporting individuals and families that they know is somewhat different to urban and regional areas where care is more broadly shared.”

Resources such as the Bush Support Line have provided much-needed emotional support when workers deal with grief or trauma. Many callers have labelled it as a lifeline.

Ms Edwards said approximately 63% of monthly callers have previously used the service at least once within the past six months, highlighting its ongoing value to workers.

“The Bush Support Line experiences calls from health workers who have provided lifesaving care to patients who have also been friends, neighbours or family,” she explained.

“It has a core team of psychologists providing support who are experienced in rural and remote mental health with cross-cultural experience and who understand the challenging remote environments of our callers.”

“Bush Support Line calls always end with checking in with the
caller, for example, ‘Where are you at now/how are you feeling now?’, ‘Have we missed anything during the call/where to from here?’. Callers consistently report feeling calmer, feeling understood/validated, having a plan to move forward and reflecting value in the service.”

Health and aged care workers looking for support from outside of their own community also benefit from the service as it provides anonymous professional help.

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