South Shore Hospital Investigates COVID-19 ICU Patient Isolation and its Consequences on the Mental Health of Family Members
During the height of the pandemic, family members of patients hospitalized in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with COVID-19 faced a great deal of stress.
It wasn’t just that their family member was facing a deadly new virus with no known cure, but that they were facing this in complete isolation.
Visitor restrictions prevented family members from providing in-person support for their family members, and also kept them from having face-to-face conversations and with their loved one’s care team.
“Involving family and loved ones in the care of patients in the ICU is something we care deeply about at South Shore Hospital,” said Nicholas Csikesz, MD, a critical care physician at South Shore Hospital. “During the height of the surge in the spring, when visitation was almost completely off limits, we made it a focus to try to keep family members updated regularly and able to interact remotely with their loved ones if at all possible.”
Now, a new study designed to investigate how a patient’s COVID-19 ICU hospitalization affects the mental health of family members is currently under way at South Shore Hospital.
The study is led by Timothy Amass, MD of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and is being conducted in coordination with Dr. Csikesz and many others.
“The pandemic has forced the medical community to adapt in rapid and unprecedented ways,” said Dr. Amass. “The current guidelines around family engagement in intensive care had to be abandoned in favor of the safety of the community at large.”
The study seeks to answer key questions about the lasting impact of the pandemic on the mental and emotional health of the community while also addressing what changes hospitals can adopt in the future to make these hospitalizations easier on family members.
South Shore Health is one of just seven health care systems in the country participating in the study.
“We feel fortunate to be able to participate in this study to hopefully gain further understanding on how we can best support families who go through the stressful experience of having a loved one in the intensive care unit,” said Dr. Csikesz.
One of the main aspects of the study is to investigate how the ICU isolation imposed by COVID-19 impacts rates of Post-Intensive Care Syndrome – Family, also known as PICS-F.
PICS-F describes a condition where the mental or emotional health of a family member has been negatively impacted by a loved one’s stay in the ICU.
Previous research has found that symptoms consistent with PICS-F are common when a loved one is hospitalized in the ICU, with some studies finding rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in family members as high 49% in the months after discharge.
Along with PTSD, symptoms can include anxiety and depression.
By conducting this study, researchers hope to be able to identify conditions that may leave family members vulnerable to PICS-F while also identifying tools and methods that can be used to increase communication between caregivers and family members, particularly when in-person discussions aren’t possible.
The results of the study will inform strategic and well-informed interventions, with the goal to elicit better outcomes for both patients and their family members during periods of crisis such as the current pandemic.
“With the help of South Shore, we are seeking to understand the implications of these necessary measures,” said Dr. Amass. “We hope to help define means to better support family members during these profoundly trying times.”