“In the very beginning, our plans for the workshops did not include the pandemic — there wasn’t a pandemic,” Haynes-Thoby said. “… As the pandemic progressed, we were able to pivot in a way that allowed for considerations of the implementation and operationalization of the principals of trauma-informed care. This also meant that we needed to address what it would mean to maintain a trauma-informed system within a pandemic context. We were invited to co-create a space that staff’s trauma might also be a consideration, as losses continued to multiply due to the pandemic.
“How do we make sure that we’re not just watching burnout occur and doing nothing as staff fall away,” she continued. “Not just because of being exhausted from the work or from compassion fatigue, but also because we saw people becoming very ill themselves.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the global pandemic brought forth unprecedented challenges for society, but we would be remiss not to acknowledge the persisting challenges it also illuminated.
For GRACE Marketplace, this was a reminder of the importance of self-care and strategies for managing stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. While these practices are vital year-round, they were critical as their campus locked down, reduced its capacity to 70 percent and staff moved on-site 24 hours a day to reduce exposure and bolster shelter safety.
“It was terrifying at the beginning of the pandemic because we didn’t know what this was,” Gruver said. “We didn’t know how deadly it was. We didn’t know how fast it could take over the population.”
Together, Haynes-Thoby, Gruver and the staff at GRACE collaborated to create a six-week workshop series focused on pressing challenges the frontline was facing. Their goal was to foster a safe space for staff to share their struggles and to come together to find meaningful solutions.
“My staff — who kind of is confronted daily with the face of human suffering day in and day out — all of their fears and stressors were exacerbated,” Gruver said.
“… I started to notice increased staff tensions and burnout and compassion fatigue presenting themselves, and you can only say take care of yourself so many times before it begins to sound meaningless,” he continued. “So I needed some extra assistance to try and rebuild that stuff — and that’s where Dr. Haynes-Thoby came in.”
The series was held virtually and focused on a diverse range of topics based on staff interests and needs: trauma-informed self-care and self-compassion, stress management, compassion fatigue, burnout prevention, vicarious traumatization, grief, anti-racism in homeless and housing, cultural awareness and cultural humility.
“I think a lot of us don’t often admit that there are days where you go into work and it feels like you’re working at 110 percent and then there are other days where it feels a lot less heavy,” Haynes-Thoby said. “During the pandemic, what we heard was lots of staff described feeling as if they were at 110 percent every single day and then going home to loved ones and being at 110 percent there. We were witnessing staff achieve levels of burnout that were different than we had seen before. The candle was definitely burning high at both ends.”