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HEALTH MATTERS: Health care workers are heroic—but they're also human
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HEALTH MATTERS: Health care workers are heroic—but they're also human

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Health care heroes. Front-line warriors. Superheroes in scrubs.

Doctors and nurses have received many monikers during this pandemic. And they’ve earned them—when many of us stayed home and avoided the virus, they ran the opposite way, saving lives, healing patients and comforting families.

For more than a year, they’ve worked grueling hours and faced death, often without the proper protective gear.

However, calling them heroes can gloss over the truth: They are very human, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Their scrubs don’t work like Superman’s cape, giving them powers that we lack.

Recently, the Virginia Nurses Association addressed burnout, stress and caregiver fatigue among its members. Many are exhausted, depressed and traumatized. Several have taken their own lives.

So, yes, let’s acknowledge their heroic work. Continue providing them with thank you notes and meals. But let’s also help those who are saving our communities. Let’s step up as sidekicks and provide the support health care workers need: by reaching out and by reducing our odds of overburdening hospitals.

Reaching out can be simple. When you provide a meal and a thank you note, make that note authentic and acknowledge the emotional toll it takes.

Additionally, check on your friends, family and acquaintances who work in health care. Ask them how they’re doing—not in a simple manner of greeting, but with a desire to know the answer.

Check for clues that they may be suicidal. Warning signs include talking about feeling hopeless or being a burden to others, withdrawing and isolating, drastic changes to sleep habits, increased substance use, irritability, giving away possessions, and sudden, dramatic changes in mood.

If you note any signs, ask them directly, “Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?”

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If you believe that someone you know is suicidal, please call RACSB’s emergency services at 540/373-6876. If someone is displaying signs, but is not thinking about taking their own life, encourage them to seek mental health treatment. There is a shortage of mental health professionals, so it’s best to start the process as soon as possible. Also, early intervention prevents escalation to suicide.

Many people do not seek mental health care because of stigma. To overcome this, talk about your own struggles with mental health or your own experiences with treatment. If you don’t have personal experience, share a story from a celebrity or mutual acquaintance. Talk to your loved ones about behavioral health care as you would about physical health care. Encourage them to visit a therapist just as you would advise them to get a physical or treatment for an illness.

In addition to helping health care workers deal with the emotional strain of their job, do your part to lessen that burden: Get your COVID-19 vaccine; wear a mask when you’re inside a public space, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated (during high levels of transmission like we are currently experiencing); practice social distancing; and if you’re not feeling well, get a COVID-19 test. If you’re unvaccinated, stay home while you’re awaiting your results. If you are fully vaccinated, wear a mask at all times until you receive your test results.

We as a community need to do our part to support our health care workers. These are the people who have been on the COVID-19 front lines since Day 1, and most of us cannot even begin to imagine what they must be going through, physically and emotionally. From a public health perspective, what can we do to help? What are our responsibilities? First and foremost, get your COVID-19 vaccine.

Time and time again, we’ve heard that the overwhelming majority of those hospitalized due to COVID are unvaccinated. In Virginia, unvaccinated people have been hospitalized at a rate 6.3 times that of fully vaccinated people.

Of the over 5 million Virginians who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, just 0.021 percent have been hospitalized. These numbers speak so loudly and so clearly, yet there are many of us who are refusing to listen. As of Sept. 23, 62.5 percent of those eligible (ages 12 and older) in the Rappahannock Area Health District have received at least one dose of the vaccine—this means more than 1 in 3 of our eligible community members are still not vaccinated.

Why would anyone choose to risk being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and possibly becoming sick enough to have to be hospitalized when there is a safe, effective, and free vaccine available?

Imagine the amount of burden that could be eased for our healthcare workers if there were far fewer COVID patients requiring care in a hospital. We wouldn’t have to worry about long waiting times in our emergency rooms, lack of available beds, even lack of available health care professionals.

We also would not be contributing to the emotional and physical strain of the people we count on to take care of us, and the people we love, when we need it most.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is easier than ever. Text your Zip code to GETVAX-438829 or visit vaccines.gov to find a vaccination site near you.

Visit RAHD’s website at vdh.virginia.gov/Rappahannock for more information.

Mary Chamberlin is the public information officer for the Rappahannock Area Health District. Amy Umble is communications coordinator for Rappahannock Area Community Services Board. Both organizations serve Fredericksburg and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

Mary Chamberlin is the public information officer for the Rappahannock Area Health District. Amy Umble is communications coordinator for Rappahannock Area Community Services Board. Both organizations serve Fredericksburg and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

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