The Adventures in Caring Foundation premiered its latest video, Oxygen for Caregivers: A Tootlkit for Guarding Against Burnout and Sustaining Compassion, at the New Vic Theatre last Thursday.
Although the subject matter was serious, the kickoff was festive as almost 200 guests enjoyed the novelty of a pre-show reception onstage and then settled in to watch some “fresh air” for caregivers.
Four years in the making, with videography and music provided by Los Olivos resident Bent Myggen of VisionEars.com, Oxygen for Caregivers features local physicians, nurses, first responders, clergy and allied health care professionals who speak candidly about their own experiences with, and remedies for, caregiver burnout.
Paula Bruice, vice president of the board and senior lecturer of Organic Chemistry at UCSB, started the formal part of the program by describing the work of AiC and introducing the organization’s executive director, Simon Fox, who acted as emcee.
According to Fox’s research the stress levels inherent in many caregivers’ jobs are off the charts. He pointed out that more than 40 percent of trauma workers are physically assaulted at work, nurses are more likely to experience on-the-job violence than all other professions, and 37 percent of physicians may be clinically depressed. There is a strong correlation between being assaulted and compassion fatigue.
“The premiere was our way of thanking first responders and all those who work in high-stress health care settings in our community,” Fox said. “They are dedicating their lives to getting others through life-threatening situations, but who is getting them through? No wonder we are losing so many of our best professionals to burnout.”
Oxygen represents a fundamental cultural shift from the current model for caregivers from the pursuit of “excellence” to the pursuit of “wholeness.” As the video points out, experiencing compassion fatigue is not a personal weakness but an occupational hazard. Caregivers and first responders have to be strong on the job, but afterward they suffer the consequences of always being “on” and doing so when other peoples’ lives hang in the balance. They give all they have at the workplace and their families too often get “what’s left over.”
The remedies for burnout are many, but they all start with mindfulness and building in ways to cope early on. These include peer support, supervisory sensitivity and making time for oneself. Adventures in Caring has developed proven techniques — which can be taught — to ensure that caregivers develop the tools of resilience not only to survive but to thrive. Not just a frill, these techniques have a direct bearing on competency and the quality of a health care provider’s work.
That the message of Oxygen resonated deeply with the audience was evidenced by the spirited audience participation during the Q&A, which ran twice as long as scheduled. Hands flew up all over the theater as people weighed in with their own caregiving experiences and concerns. Their queries were fielded by Sgt. Dan Calderon of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, and Dr. David Cumes, a surgeon and urologist from South Africa who practices in Goleta and is also a fully initiated African Shaman. They were joined by Tokie Shynk, RN, director of Critical Care Services at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and the Rev. Jon-Stephen Hedges of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, the County of Santa Barbara’s Mental Health Assertive Community Treatment Team and Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department chaplain.
Three of the four panelists were involved in the aftermath of the Isla Vista shootings, which made the panel discussion that much more urgent, relevant and close to home. All the panelists agreed that pressure on providers is increasing throughout health care and emergency services. They also agreed that there is a great need for reform in the way those services are delivered. However, given the ever-more-frantic pace of today’s caregiving environment, they acknowledged that change will be slow in coming.
Adventures in Caring is known locally for its Raggedy Ann & Andy patient care program, but it is recognized nationally and internationally for groundbreaking training materials that make compassion a visible, teachable, replicable skill. Along with its extensive workbooks, Oxygen for Caregivers is the third offering in the organization’s Cultivating Compassion series. The other two are The Medicine of Compassion and Compassion in Action, both of which are staples of health-care training here and abroad.
Celebrating 30 years of service, the Adventures in Caring Foundation focuses on preserving the human element in health care. It has trained thousands of current and future health care professionals in the art and practice of treating patients with compassion — making the human connection that nourishes patients when they are at their lowest ebb. The organization develops award-winning DVD-based training programs for health care professionals and volunteer caregivers in the delivery of compassionate care.
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— Patti Teel is a publicist representing the Adventures in Caring Foundation.