The staff at Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam) in Haifa, Israel know that weathering wars, traumatic events, and complex stressful situations is part of the job. Nevertheless, the horrific attacks of October 7 on Israeli citizens created an existential crisis for many whose day-to-day work requires showing a brave face for the benefit of the public.
The emotional turmoil experienced by Israel’s residents following the terrorist invasion of October 7 has been unprecedented, its magnitude unimaginable. Among those affected by the situation are hundreds of Rambam employees who have turned to the hospital’s emergency and crisis support staff for help. Seeing an immediate need, Rambam’s various psychosocial services responded.
“Since the beginning of the war up until now, we provide, on average, more than ten individual support sessions and ten group sessions daily,” notes Liat Ariel, Director of Psychological Services at Rambam.” She explains that referrals are received from all hospital departments. “People recognized the need for support at the very beginning of the events and contacted us.”
On a case-by-case basis, employees are assigned to a trained dedicated counselor who is part of Rambam’s multidisciplinary support and psychological services team. Employees are provided with a safe environment in which they can discuss their feelings of anxiety, sadness, and distress regarding the war, and talk about their personal circumstances and difficulties functioning. The counselors are able to validate the employee’s feelings and circumstances and offer suggestions for coping with them, while leaving a door open for the employee to take advantage of the personal, organizational, and social resources available to them.
The therapy team works in collaboration with human resources and the personnel clinic to determine the employee’s level of need and has established ongoing programs to address unique populations amongst staff, such as parents with young children and parent and spouses of soldiers and reservists that have been called for duty. Rambam provides its staff with the option to attend a reoccurring Zoom meeting, during which parents can ask questions of about how to interact with their children under the current stressful circumstances.
“The difficult events caused feelings of shock and distress, great concern, frustration and anger, and mental anguish. There are those whose relatives were injured, have fallen in battle, and were murdered or kidnapped. This crisis impacts all of us. There are employees who have been evacuated from their homes. Many have children, grandchildren, or spouses now serving in the military, and some are experiencing post-traumatic stress as this war is evoking an emotional response to previous loss and difficult memories. As complicated as it all may be, Rambam staff members are essential and expected to treat patients, and save and preserve lives. During times of uncertainty, we know that a sense of belonging and connection to something meaningful helps us all to function.”
Caregivers of caregivers
A list of phone numbers is widely distributed daily to staff by emails, on monitors around the campus, and by word of mouth. “Even in cases where a more substantial and prolonged intervention is needed, we are seeing progress. The therapy sessions receive very positive feedback,” says Ariel.
Ariel emphasizes that during times of extreme stress, it is critical for each person to return to their routine and look after their well-being – attending to basic needs, as well as to engage in activities that make them feel good. “Gradually, it is then possible for us to switch off the constant state of ‘high alert’ throughout the day and gather strength,” says Ariel. “And of course, connection and human contact is irreplaceable. These are fundamental. It is important for each of us to understand that national resilience begins with personal resilience. And, in this sense too, together we will win.”