Brussels hospital opens quiet retreat for stressed care workers
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Brussels hospital opens quiet retreat for stressed care workers

VUB rector Pauwels (left) hands over the funding to Dr Karen Pien (centre) and UZ Brussel CEO Marc Noppen. © VUB

The Brussels university hospital UZ Brussel has inaugurated Villa Samson, a retreat where care workers subject to the stresses of work during the Covid-19 epidemic can withdraw and receive counselling.

The initiative was the idea of Caroline Pauwels, rector of the hospital’s parent university VUB. It forms part of #VerzorgDeVerzorgers (Care for the Carers), a programme to take care of the emotional and psychological welfare of health care workers.

Pauwels yesterday handed over a cheque for €25,000 to Marc Noppen, CEO of the hospital.

Villa Samson is intended for medical, nursing and support staff, all of whom have come under increased pressure since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Belgium at the end of February. Even when the numbers of hospital admissions dipped from a peak of 5,759 a day in early April, hospitals had to catch up with the backlog of other medical cases that had been postponed to allocate more resources to the epidemic.

Since the beginning of September the numbers have been climbing again, albeit not to anywhere near the same extent – 1.110 people in hospital on Thursday – and there are two backlogs still weighing on human resources: untreated patients with other conditions, and staff leave which was not taken during the height of the crisis.

The hand-over of the cheque coincides with the ten-day annual mental health ‘festival,’ during which a team led by medical information manager Dr Karen Pien will interview staff members on their psychological experiences, offering help where required.

I myself am an expert on post-traumatic stress syndrome from personal experience,” said Dr Pien.

During the first wave of the corona crisis, I explained to Prof. Dr. Noppen what I thought was really necessary: a place where the mental health of the care and maintenance employees of UZ Brussel could be worked on in peace and tranquillity,” she said.

“That place became Villa Samson. Anyone who comes to us can tell their story extensively. We offer a listening ear and then focus on groundwork: on the one hand we encourage self-care and on the other hand we perform trauma release exercises.”

On the presentation of the cheque, Caroline Pauwels posted on Facebook, “This goes out to every UZ Brussel staff member, the previous Covid wave and also, unfortunately, the emerging new wave,” she said 

“When the carers themselves need support and care, we have to be there. Caring is sharing. The admirable trauma approach of Dr. Pien and the enthusiastic Villa Samson team make all the difference.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times