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We’re focusing on one goal – to provide services to the people

Responding to COVID-19: Interview Series

MHE aims to provide helpful information to as many people as possible on how communities, including experts by experience, service providers, mental health leaders, governments and policy makers, researchers and others, can support people efficiently through the current crisis and beyond.

 

In this interview series with MHE members and partners, we discuss the impact of the pandemic on their lives and work and which measures they are taking or can be taken to cope with the situation. These testimonies underline the importance of putting mental health higher on the European agenda, during the crisis and afterwards, while offering a personal side and shared expertise for people within the mental health sector, decision makers, and anyone interested in improving mental health for all.

Interview with Paul Bomke, member of MHE’s Board and CEO of Pfalzklinikum, a service provider of mental health care in the Palatinate region, Germany

What impact is the current situation having on your organisation?

The current situation has had a huge impact on our organisation – partly on the hospital service we provide but particularly on the communitybased services and communities. We had to close nearly every service which was not focused on hospital beds, including the day-care hospital and a lot of places where people normally meet on a daily basis.

In our group homes and hospitals, there are no visitors allowed at the moment. There were people who didn’t want to stay in the hospital under these circumstances, so they left. On a ward where we normally had 20 people, now we have ten clients with nearly the same amount of staff. My colleagues observe that the coping process intensifies for some of the clients. Some might think: “This is good. It’s like being in a monastery. You are with yourself, you have the psychologists, you have doctors and nurses who have enough time. And it’s better for me because I can get closer to my own experiences and I’m not as affected by other things.

Other clients, however, are getting very upset about the situation, mostly due to economic concerns or worries about their relationships. It’s a crisis situation: “normal” things are not normal; abnormal things are normal.

There’s a risk that after the crisis, our services will be overcrowded and overused. This is another reason why we try to keep all of the staff on our payroll, which is not easy despite the financial support given to hospitalsWe are fighting very hard to ensure that financial support will keep coming despite some of our services not being delivered at the moment.

We also have more people reaching out for our services who in other circumstances would not. We anticipate a further rise in requests by people whose mental health is affected by the crisis in the next couple of weeks.

How are you adjusting your services?

We have a lot of staff members who want to work more, they want to feel that they are fighting the virus, they are on the front line! At the same time, some of our staff feels worried about their own health. Some of them might be lookingafter other members of the family: their mothers, their fathers, their children, their siblings. They don’t come to work in a bid to protect others. The rate of people staying at home has increased during the last four weeks. Normally we have an average of 15% of people staying at home, now we have an average of 20%.

 

We reduced our service to nearly 40% of our normal workload. We did this with the intention to have enough staff to run our services if the virus was to spread not only to clients, but especially to our own staff. Employees’ pay is still protected by special State programmes.

It is not easy to deliver services under these circumstances, but we try to offer solutions to our clients. We carry out daily telephone calls and visit people - without getting too physically close to them.

How are you arranging things in order to safeguard your employees’ physical and mental health?

 

We have produced a lot of guidelines. For example, we have set in place procedures to allow for daily contact (phone or video calls) between homeworking employees and the employer, so that staff feels less lonely. As most of our current services take place in institutions, we try to protect our staff with personal safety gear (masks, gloves and protection suits), although there isn’t enough of it at the moment.

 

Concerning their mental health, we try to enforce our leadership concept: managing by talking to people. It’s very simple. We try to train our leaders to be more visible. You cannot be just a digital leader, you have to be physically visible. You have to talk to people, go to the wards. Finding the right words and the right way to communicate to employees is not easy of course. It’s a communication challenge.

What is helping your organisation?

Mostly ourselves. We realised that our team is competent to manage the crisis. All the managers are standing together. We’re focusing on one goal – to provide services to the people. This is working very well.

 

The crisis has also put an emphasis on digitalisation. Before the crisis people were more reluctant to digitalise. Now, there is a boost in teleconferencing and bringing digital solutions to the outreach services we offer. The pandemic offered an opportunity to add this to our service provision.

The crisis has also put an emphasis on digitalisation.

What would further help your organisation?

A change in attitude towards service providers from ministries and public bodies. What would be helpful is if these institutions called us and said: “We are in a huge crisis and you are very important – how can we help you?” But so far it has been the opposite: they are almost like clients, constantly asking something from us. I call it the “corona bureaucracy”. Instead of the normal bureaucracy, they substitute it with the corona bureaucracy. We have to do provide more documentation, send more e-mails, letters and data sets than before. This is my wish for the time after the crisis: for public bodies, ministries and governments to approach service providers differently, to have a trust-based relationship.

What message of hope could you send to other professionals that might be facing problems similar to those of your organisation?

First of all, become a member of Mental Health Europe! I’ll tell you a personal story to answer this question. We have a WhatsApp group with some MHE members from Scotland, Serbia and Belgium. Every day we are exchanging brief messages and checking in on each other. This is so helpful. I realised that having friends all over Europe gives me hope.

 

Finding new ways to connect is something we haven’t done before. My hope is that having good networks, such as MHE,will help us to get through the crisis.

My hope is that having good networks, such as MHE, will help us to get through the crisis.

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