Emily Holmes ’07 Co-Leads Program to Support Health Care Workers Responding to COVID-19

Dr. Emily Holmes ’07 is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine/IU Health where she co-leads the Stress, Trauma, and Grief Engagement Supports (STAGES) Program. The program supports the hospital’s health care workers dealing with the stress and trauma of providing medical care during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The medical practitioners working alongside Holmes are resilient, she says. “My colleagues are banding together courageously to learn from each other and deliver excellent care, even in suboptimal circumstances.” They have quickly developed outreach programs to help those especially vulnerable during this crisis, including a plan for meeting the needs of homeless patients with COVID-19.

However, Holmes’ colleagues are facing “stressors that were unimaginable several weeks ago,” she reports. Concerned about spreading the virus to patients or family members, some are temporarily living in hotels or sending their children to stay with relatives. Others are treating patients who cannot have a loved one with them due to visitor restrictions. “Already my co-workers are preparing for the possibility of losing a colleague,” she notes. 

While Holmes guides the hospital’s program addressing these challenges and more, she worries that health care workers will have lasting emotional scars from the experience of working during the coronavirus pandemic. “Moral injury, stress, and burnout were problems even before the pandemic,” she explains.

Everyone has a role to play in the fight against COVID-19, Holmes says. She emphasizes that the No. 1 thing most people can do is to simply stay home. In addition, she notes that blood donations are urgently needed. Holmes also says that although it may feel uncomfortable, it is important to talk with family members, young and old, about their end-of-life wishes. This is a way for everyone to be prepared in all circumstances and to care for both themselves and their loved ones. She recommends The Conversation Project as a resource to help start the discussion. 

“Self-care is vital, and I’ve had to be more conscious about my own habits and routines lately,” Holmes says. For her, this includes daily exercise, limiting exposure to the news and social media, maintaining a routine while working from home — putting on shoes makes a big difference, she says — and staying connected with colleagues, mentors, friends, and family members.

As Holmes leads her colleagues through the COVID-19 response, she says she is impressed by their resilience. “I’m in awe of how my medical colleagues show up for patients all the time at great personal cost,” she says. “They keep me going!”