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Stepping up support for essential workers and their families during a pandemic


March 20, 2020
By Dr. Vernon White
Photo: Getty Images

Across the country schools are closed, businesses are shutting their doors, provinces are declaring states of emergencies, and Canadians are being told to stay home. Unless, that is, their work provides an essential service.

Doctors, nurses, police officers, paramedics, and pharmacists are still heading in to work to ensure the population is safe and has what it needs.

Frontline workers are dealing with a population that is scared and stressed out. Police, for instance, will likely be dealing with the fallout of people being isolated in close quarters, which can lead to an increase in domestic abuse cases.

Healthcare workers are not only dealing with the sick, they are going to get busier as numbers increase, and worry about their capacity to treat everyone who needs it will grow.

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At the same time, many of these individuals have families at home, who are managing stress of their own on two fronts: spouses, especially those with children at home, are dealing with isolation and separation as we continue social distancing, and they are likely worried about whether their partner will be bringing an increased risk into the home when they return from work.

This, of course, adds to the stress of the frontline workers. It is critical, therefore, that employers and leaders in those emergency services organization are thinking about how they will support for the families of staff.

Just as they should be communicating several times a day with staff, ensuring they are keeping them up to date on how the situation is changing, and what’s being experienced with the general population, so too should they be communicating directly with families.

Organizations should be making mental health resources available, communicate emergency access points, and ensure organizational engagement to make families feel supported.

We think of external communications, internal communications, but there should also be regular connection with families which could include the creation of an online forum where family members can talk to and support each other, ask questions, and share tips and tricks for passing the time. Families need updates on the situation and access to clear, factual information in order to feel calm.

This effort should be communicated to the workers, so they know somebody is taking care of their families while we expect them to take care of the population. Supporting and working with the loved ones at home will better ensure staff members can focus their energy on community members who need their support.

The organizations that put the right effort into creating this support system will better guarantee their success in dealing with this very serious situation we are and will continue to face.


Vernon White is presently a sitting Senator and former Chief of Police in both Ottawa and the Durham Region. He also served with the RCMP for more than 20 years. He is also lead consultant with Syntax Prepares, an emergency planning and crisis communications agency.


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