USU aids health care providers, community in pandemic

Information to help healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients is among the resources offered by USU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. (Photo by Linda Frazier)
Information to help healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients is among the resources offered by USU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. (Photo by Linda Frazier)

USU aids health care providers, community in pandemic

by Sarah Marshall
The Pulse

How do you deliver the dreadful news to a family member that their loved one has succumbed to COVID-19 if you’re a health care provider? How do you calm the fears of your patients who are worried about whether they may have the virus?  If you’re a parent, how do you help your children understand the global pandemic that is impacting our entire society?

Answers and information related to important questions like these can be found in fact sheets developed by the Uniformed Services University’s (USU) Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS). The Center’s scientists, educators, and clinicians are focused on advancing scientific and academic knowledge with and on outreach to mitigate the impact of trauma from all sorts of disasters, acts of terrorism, and public health threats.

As part of these efforts, shortly after it was established 33 years ago, the Center’s subject matter experts began developing facts sheets for providers and the general public. These fact sheets cover a variety of topics, such as coping with stress after a mass shooting, and psychosocial concerns after a natural disaster, providing the most relevant, sought-out information in times of crisis, explained USPHS Capt. (Dr.) Joshua Morganstein, the center’s assistant director.

Since the global pandemic emerged, CSTS has developed more than 20 fact sheets specifically tailored to questions and concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak. They address a variety of topics, including resources for military leaders, as well as how providers can ensure a patient's mental wellbeing as well as their own, and guidance for children and families during the outbreak.

The Center’s fact sheets can be found on the CSTS website and social media platforms, and are shared globally with collaborative health care groups, military and community leaders, the general public, and often providers and service members who are seeking information for training purposes.

“The fact sheets are a collaborative, multidisciplinary effort developed by a range of subject matter experts,” Morganstein said.

When it comes to creating each fact sheet and deciding which information to include, the Center forms work groups with subject matter experts who have the appropriate knowledge, specific to the topic at hand. Through networking and frequent interactions with colleagues in the healthcare field, the Center and its experts are also able to determine what questions and information are most often sought and, therefore, they can ensure the most relevant information is included in the fact sheets.  As an example, early on in the pandemic, Morganstein and others at CSTS were hearing from concerned parents who were unsure how to talk with their children about the virus. They were able to quickly poll parents to find out the most common questions that were on the minds of children – questions much different from those that are on adult minds, he said. The fact sheets suggest explaining to preschool-aged children that COVID-19 is a new germ, which spreads from person to person like a cold.  For teenagers, on the other hand, it’s important to explain how they might not get sick from the virus, but can still spread it to others in the community, and that is why it’s important that they stay away from friends and not go to parties and other group events right now.

The fact sheets are also no more than two pages long, so they can be easily digested, he noted. In addition to providing resources, the fact sheets also address important needs, such as the value of listening to children and hearing their concerns in times of a crisis. They also include information that is practical. For instance, for health care providers, the fact sheets suggest specific, helpful words that can be used when delivering the news to a family member that their loved one has died.

So far, these resources have been adopted by the American Psychiatric Association, American Medical Association, and the National Academies of Medicine, to inform key stakeholders. They are also prominently displayed on the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response’s (ASPR) Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange (TRACIE), which provides information to healthcare coalitions, providers, public health practitioners, and others working in disaster medicine.

It’s important for people to not only have resources and information, but to have actionable recommendations, Morganstein said. People need to know what to do and say, as well as what to avoid doing, in times of crisis.

“These fact sheets really emphasize what people can do, and they explain complex topics in a simple way,” he said. “They represent and use evidence-based principles, and are developed by subject matter experts’ guidance to create a practical, usable and understandable resource.”

For more information on the CSTS facts sheets, as well as infographics and other helpful information related to COVID-19, visit their website at https://www.cstsonline.org.

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