This study describes the psychological counseling offered to family members of SARS-CoV-2 patients in an intensive care unit (ICU). The purpose of this study is to describe the emotional burden experienced by families, and describe the first contact and counseling services.
Family members of patients admitted to the IRCCS ISMETT COVID-19 ICU were contacted by telephone by the IRCCS ISMETT Clinical Psychology Service. After this first contact, the families who accepted the service were offered periodical counseling by the psychologists. The clinical psychological interview was used to manage and support their emotional burden. The stress thermometer was used as a tool to assess the stress experienced by the family members, who were followed by the psychology team until the patient was discharged or transferred to another hospital, or until his or her death. A follow-up telephone psychological counseling was planned six months after the patient’s discharge.
We contacted 60 family members of patients admitted to the IRCCS ISMETT COVID-19 ICU. Of these, 23 accepted the telephone psychological counseling. The level of perceived stress of family members was high (M 7 DS 1.6). The main cause of distress was described as related to an emotional issue (fear, depression). Family members were encouraged to manage the emotional burden and supported at the time of the patient’s discharge or death.
Our experience with telephone psychological counseling for family members of COVID-19 ICU patients highlights the emotional burden of families and the importance of this service. Our study encourages additional research on the post-traumatic sequelae of family members forced to deal at a distance with the hospitalization of a beloved one, and suggests the need for a patient- and family-centered model of care, even during a pandemic.