COPE Team: Providing an essential link for support

Even without a global pandemic, working in health care can be stressful. At University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, the COPE Team exists to help faculty and staff recognize and handle that stress.

Comprised of a range of volunteers including chaplains, physicians, social workers, psychiatrists and more, the COPE Team strives to provide emotional support and healing to health care providers who’ve experienced difficult situations.

“It’s great that we have as much variety in the team as we do,” says Jeremy Hudson, MTS, BCC, who provides administrative oversight for the COPE Team. “Sometimes physicians want to talk to physicians, and nurses want to talk with nurses. Talking with someone who can empathize with your situation is really beneficial to the healing process.”

Team support meetings

Jeremy Hudson, MTS, BCC, provides administrative oversight for the UI Hospitals & Clinics COPE Team.

One of the most important tools utilized by the COPE Team is the team support meeting. In this exercise, the COPE Team uses a group setting to help health care providers normalize stress, identify coping mechanisms, and seek additional resources. 

“Sometimes a person will look around after a stressful event thinking that everyone else appears to be doing fine,” says Hudson. “Then that person ends up with two problems: the event itself and the feeling that something’s wrong with them for being the only one reacting to it.”

In reality, Hudson emphasizes that the team support meetings are a way to demonstrate that everyone is experiencing similar feelings. Beyond that, the meetings help members recognize where they’re at in the process and how they should proceed.

For some, moving forward may require help from additional resources provided by the COPE Team. 

“Around 70 percent of people’s stress reactions resolve within a week or two,” says Hudson. “It’s the other 30 percent that might need additional support. By putting them in touch with those resources, we provide a link to further care to those who may need it.”

Handling COVID-19

Among the most difficult of obstacles presented by the coronavirus is the type of stress it incites. Hudson notes that, while most stress we experience is acute stress caused by a given situation, COVID-19 is causing chronic stress in many. 

“With most events there is a beginning and an end,” says Hudson. “Here, we’ve had the beginning, but we don’t know when the end will be. That’s a major stressor for people.”

The implementation of social distancing limits the amount of person-to-person contact we can have, but the need for human interactions persists. Initially, the COPE Team was surprised at the desire from faculty and staff for continued in-person meetings. 

“They just didn’t want virtual meetings,” says Hudson. “They wanted a person. It really drove home the realization that people want human-to-human contact, even during a difficult time.” 

After speaking with administrators and abiding by all social distancing and PPE requirements, the COPE Team received approval to continue in-person meetings. 

“I would say that probably 95 percent of meetings and peer-support we’ve provided during COVID-19 has been in person,” says Hudson. “We’re just happy we can continue to care for the hospital’s most important resource: the people.” 

Please contact the COPE Team for support at 319-356-2758 or UIHC-COPE@healthcare.uiowa.edu, or visit the COPE Team SharePoint site for more information.