Fostering Resiliency Through Peer Support for COVID-19 Health Care Workers

COVID-19 has created extraordinary challenges for medical professionals and institutions who care for those ill with the novel coronavirus. The sheer magnitude of the experience of treating COVID-19 patients and the risks that come with such work, alongside threats to global economies, social stabilities and entire ways of life, can cause significant trauma to health care workers.

Albert W. Wu, MD, MPH along with Cheryl Connors, BSN, MS, DNP and George S. Everly Jr., PhD published an article entitled COVID-19: Peer Support and Crisis Communication Strategies to Promote Institutional Resilience which details their experience and findings of the effect caring for COVID-19 patients has had on health care workers, and how institutions can address problems.

Health care workers are under tremendous stress. Patients need providers who are physically and mentally prepared for the task of treating them, so protecting the health and well-being of health care workers is vital for the continued treatment of COVID-19. Combining their wealth of experience responding to SARS and H1N1 influenza, disaster response, development of national medical recovery plans and creation of peer support programs for health care workers, the authors summarize the lessons they’ve learned and discuss best practices for organizations to help their workers become more resilient.In the article, the authors explain how health care workers on the front line of contagious and life-threatening illnesses may develop fear and anxiety of infection. With SARS up to 50% of health care workers experienced serious psychological distress, burnout and PTSD while caring for SARS patients (1, 5). This coupled with fear of infecting their family, forcing themselves to socially isolate and other stressful factors negatively affected their well-being (1, 5). Recently, publications have noted the detrimental effects of the stress of prolonged exposure to COVID-19 (6, 7).

From shortage of personal protective equipment which create feelings of helplessness and frustration, to the stressful and sometimes desperate measures taken to avoid contamination by workers in biocontainment units and emergency departments, to the isolation and disempowerment experienced by less visible hospital staff like laundry and facilities ‚Äď COVID-19 has had an impact on the mental health of health care workers across any hospital or care providing organization. As a result, such institutions need to anticipate mental health concerns will arise and ensure workers know these feelings are normal and should be expressed in a safe and healthy way, and provide support resources.

Ideally institutions should provide leadership focused on resilience, structure crisis communications around empowerment and helpful resources and create staff support within the organization. As a good example of such an institutional response, the authors profile John Hopkins Medicine’s peer support program called RISE (Resilience in Stressful Events) (8), which provides 24/7, confidential first aid and emotional support to health care workers who experience stressful clinical events. RISE is a collaborative effort within the organization, including aid from psychiatrists, chaplains, employee assistance and wellness programs.

Lastly the authors remind readers the response to COVID-19 is akin to a marathon and not a sprint. This means there is prolonged risk of negative impact to the health and wellness of health care workers. Anticipation of this risk and proactive measures to reduce adverse effects is crucial to maintaining an optimally functioning force of workers caring for severely ill patients. Read the full article here.

On Tuesday, July 14 at noon-1pm CDT ICSI will host a webinar about the RISE Peer Support Program (RISE ‚Äď Resilience in Stressful Events) with article author Dr. Albert Wu. The presentation will describe steps that health care institutions can take to support health workers, using the integrated program at Johns Hopkins as an example. We invite you to join us; register here.


  1. Tam CW , Pang EP , Lam LC , et al. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong in 2003: stress and psychological impact among frontline healthcare workers.Psychol Med. 2004;34:1197-204. [PMID: 15697046]
  2. Maunder RG , Lancee WJ ,  Balderson KE , et al. Long-term psychological and occupational effects of providing hospital healthcare during SARS outbreak. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12:1924-32. [PMID: 17326946]
  3. Adams JG , Walls RM . Supporting the health care workforce during the COVID-19 global epidemic. JAMA. 2020. [PMID: 32163102
  4. Dewey C , Hingle S ,  Goelz E , et al. Supporting clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ann Intern Med. 2020.
  5. Edrees H , Connors C ,  Paine L , et al. Implementing the RISE second victim support programme at the Johns Hopkins Hospital: a case study. BMJ Open. 2016;6:e011708. [PMID: 27694486]