March 15, 2021

Debra Pender counsels frontline health care workers during pandemic

Debra Pender, associate professor in counseling and rehabilitation education in the School of Health Sciences and a licensed clinical professional counselor, is helping frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by volunteering her time to provide free crisis intervention counseling through the national Emotional PPE Project.

As the pandemic raged, frontline health care workers encountered extreme stress levels due to patient hospitalizations and deaths, especially coupled with isolation caused by the virus, taking a toll on their physical and mental well-being, Pender said. The result is cumulative stress coupled with critical burnout.

As a specialist in trauma treatment for emergency responders, Pender volunteered beginning in April 2020 for the national pro bono counseling project. Health care workers in Illinois may contact her via telephone or texting through the project’s website for free, trauma-informed mental health counseling. She seeks to help them make sense of what they have experienced, rebuild connections and begin to recover. She can then refer them to additional assistance in their area. She has already assisted about 15 health care workers and the project is ongoing.