Rescuing the rescuer

The Crisis Support Team provides important support to those who are on the front lines of helping others
March 1, 2016


It’s normal to be affected by the events we experience, said registered nurse Wendy Heath, a peer support provider for UCHealth’s Crisis Support Team in northern Colorado.

Photo: UCHealth

“When you work in health care you deal with a lot of stressors, and if you deal with the emotions they bring, then that’s OK, but when you push those feelings aside, ultimately they can interfere with your mission to help others.”

Heath is part of a team of specially trained health care employees and counselors who provide support when situations — often crises — arise at UCHealth hospitals. The team’s mission: provide trusted and available resources for care and stress management to employees following traumatic incidents resulting from the performance of their duties.

“Every situation you encounter (as a health care worker) is totally different, and each one brings a different emotion with it,” said Kory Scheideman, a charge nurse in Medical Center of the Rockies’ Emergency Room.

As a nurse leader, Scheideman has called on the crisis team frequently when he’s felt a situation or ER patient emotionally affected his staff.

“I think it’s toughest when it’s a situation you relate to,” he said. “Maybe it’s a child the same age as your child… Kids many times trigger these emotions.”

In these cases, Scheideman said, it’s important to call on the Crisis Support Team immediately. “They can then get started on the process of evaluation right then and determine what’s best from there,” he said.

WHO: We are specifically trained counselors and peers in Critical Incident Stress Management.
WHAT: We provide peer support, same-day defusing, critical incident stress debriefing (up to 72 hours post event), and post incident follow-up.
WHEN: Call us after any high-stress critical incident that happens at work which may be impacting you adversely, or that you feel may impact your coworkers/staff. (Examples: Code Blues, Rapid Response Team activations, high-stress/high-acuity patient situations, emotionally difficult situations, violence in the workplace, patient deaths.)
HOW: You can reach the on-call dispatcher for the team listed under Counseling-Crisis Support Team
The team’s coordinator, Joe Silva, couldn’t agree more.

“This isn’t psychotherapy,” he said. “It’s intervention-focused support based on each particular situation. If we are activated early on, we can help the reporting party to see what symptoms are concerning and what are normal responses. We then can advise what to do and help to facilitate the appropriate intervention.”

Crisis intervention is to psychotherapy as physical first aid is to surgery, Silva explained.

The team is made up of 23 employees, including a medical doctor clinical liaison (for clinical structure), licensed professional counselors, a chaplain, and an assortment of peers. The peer support portion is made up of staff from different hospital departments but mostly from patient-care roles such as emergency services. And members are trained, based on principles designed by Dr. Jeffery T. Mitchell of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, to understand a wide variety of crisis services, for individuals and groups. The two most recognizable services include defusing and debriefing.

Defusing happens up to 24 hours after an event. Team members arrive on site to ensure staff is aware of acute stress reaction signs and help staff understand normal coping responses, Heath said.

Debriefing involves the support of peers and a counselor, and happens 24 to 72 hours after the event. The structured and formulated process allows those involved to verbalize their reactions, be part of a community of others who experienced the same situation, and receive updates on that particular incident.

“What I like most about the crisis team is the immediate support,” Scheideman said. “You have that person there to bounce things off of who wasn’t directly involved.”

Scheideman also recognizes the nature of the job doesn’t lend itself well to addressing crises immediately — thus, the importance of the critical-incident-stress debriefing.

“Unfortunately, the ER is where we go straight from coding someone, to next door where that person has no idea what you just did. It’s not like you’re going to say, ‘Sorry for the wait; I was saving someone’s life,’” he said. “That’s tough, and a lot of times we are just too busy to deal with it. But don’t hesitate to call the Crisis Support Team. It can make a huge difference.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.