Last Responders feeling the effects of the pandemic

Published: Jan. 15, 2021 at 6:22 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -Cedar Rapids Funeral Director Peter Teahen with Teahen Funeral Home says the surging Covid-19 deaths are taking a toll on last responders. Teahen is working with the University of Iowa on a new study on the extent it’s doing to their mental health.

They built a hazmat room when the pandemic started to prepare. It’s where they disinfect deceased Covid-19 patients.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 55 years,” he says, “I have never seen so many couples die, as I’ve seen in the last four and a half months.”

His workers are balancing taking care of grieving families while tending to their own mental health. “Not that its burnout, but its compassion fatigue,” he said. “That we’re soaking up so much of the pain and the grief and the family members, that it impacts our ability to perform.”

Teahen reached out to UI Researchers because he says there’s never been a large study catering to last responders. Researchers sent out surveys to hundreds of last responders across the country to learn more about their experiences.

“Death is not something that we want to be consciously thinking about,” said Rima Afifi, with the UI College of Public Health. “And so when it happens and we have to sort of deal with those professionals we do.”

That’s why Teahen says it’s important for last responders to be there for each other. “There’s a lot of discussions on first responders,” he said. “But people, once it gets to the death, that whole discussion disappears from society.” A discussion Teahen says we can’t hold off from having any longer.

Afifi says the next step is to have one on one discussions with last responders to get more in depth reaction on what they are going through, and how they can help.

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