Confronting Collective and Cumulative Grief: Self-Care as an Institutional Responsibility

Homelessness is a socially engineered trauma, rooted in systems of oppression and violence, with measurable health disparities. Compared to their housed counterparts, individuals experiencing homelessness are 3-4x more likely to die prematurely, 2x as likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and 3x more likely to die of heart disease; the life expectancy of a person experiencing homelessness is only 48 years. Homelessness is a traumatic experience, and individuals experiencing homelessness often have histories of trauma prior to homelessness. While larger systemic work is required to upend the underlying systems of oppression, staff encounter these realities while trying to collaborate with clients to navigate these. structures and provide equitable, high-quality, person-centered health care.

In order to adequately provide these services, the health and well-being of staff must be an institutional priority. Staff experience the cumulative effects of stress, burnout, and vicarious trauma, each with well-documented physical, mental, and emotional manifestations. The passing of clients can be a particularly challenging time marked with grief. Regardless of the duration of engagement with a client, grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a client, and acknowledging these feelings are essential. In a whole-person health care model with wrap-around support, it’s common for various staff to engage with the same client, leading to a collective grief that is felt more broadly and communally. This workshop will provide attendees with a framework for understanding grief as a collective and cumulative process. Attendees will develop a praxis of addressing shared grief to combat the harms of unacknowledged, successive loss. Additionally, this workshop will include a history of one organization’s intermittent attempts at addressing shared loss, and how COVID-19 led to a coalition of staff reviving the creation of a space for grieving through storytelling. The value of storytelling as a coping strategy for grief, death, and bereavement is well-established as an effective form of processing, allowing staff to reflect on the full humanity of clients. The power of collective healing demonstrates the need to reconceptualize self-care from a solely individual practice, to an institutional responsibility. Attendees will recognize the roles of white supremacy in the workplace and how they are antithetical to collective grief.

Speakers: Deirdre Hoey: Behavioral Health Therapist, Health Care for the Homeless; Lauren Ojeda: Pediatric and Family Case Manager, Health Care for the Homeless; Veronica Johnson: Behavioral Health Therapist, Health Care for the Homeless

Session Materials: 

Categories: Clinical Practice, Mortality, Workforce Development and Support
Tags: 2023 National HCH Conference
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