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Reading: Peer support program for long COVID sufferers: an opportunity to co-design

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Peer support program for long COVID sufferers: an opportunity to co-design

Authors:

Robin Armstrong ,

Mercy Health, AU
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Bernadette Mulcahy,

Mercy Health, AU
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Ingrid Maine,

Mercy Health, AU
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Christine East,

Latrobe University, Melbourne Mercy Health, AU
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Brigitte Grant

Mercy Health, AU
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Abstract

Introduction: The post-acute sequelae of illness in individuals surviving COVID-19, more commonly labelled ‘long COVID’, are adding to the burden of disease resulting in substantial chronic health loss. Robust structures of clinical and supportive management for long COVID sufferers are required to address the potential chronic health loss this condition poses. Our Health Independence Program provides multidisciplinary rehabilitation services for the local government area of Wyndham, Melbourne, Australia; an area that recorded the highest number of acute COVID-19 cases state-wide in 2020. Routinely administered assessments, including the six-minute walk test (6MWT); Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10); the abbreviated World Health Organisation Quality of Life tool (WHOQOL-BREF), and the modified fatigue impact scale (MFIS), confirmed that individuals with long COVID attending our service have many ongoing and complex health challenges, irrespective of age (range 25 – 77 years).

These attendees voiced their concerns about their struggles with long COVID, including that they needed emotional support.

Peer support groups are well placed as an intervention in this complex rehabilitation/recovery process, as a forum for reciprocity of the shared experience, along with the development of trust, resilience, and a sense of purpose. As such, they potentially provide a forum that might meet the emotional support needs of our long COVID sufferers.

Aim: To describe the co-design of a peer support group for long COVID sufferers.

Methods: Attendees at the service were encouraged to voice their concerns and consider what they would like in a peer support group. Together with the multidisciplinary team, they co-designed the peer support group to be one that meets both in person and virtually, as safe space to share their thoughts and feelings. Facilitation by anexperienced registered nurse and an occupational therapist was seen as an important feature in the initial stages to provide guidance and structure to this peer support group.

The routine assessments will be re-administered following participation in the group, to monitor health status over time. We will also survey participants and facilitators about their experiences and reflections with the peer support group, to ascertain what features were helpful and beneficial.

Results: Eleven individuals have now participated in several sessions. Their informal feedback is positive with reports of how it ‘normalises how they feel’; ‘offers informal advice and support,’ and provides a ‘feeling of safety when discussing feelings’.

Conclusion: Our peer support program potentially provides an empathetic forum to validate the recovery process, reduce social isolation and importantly increase motivation for rehabilitation therapy. Capturing this feedback and monitoring the chronic health status of this group will be an important element in our overall evaluation of this peer support program as it evolves.

How to Cite: Armstrong R, Mulcahy B, Maine I, East C, Grant B. Peer support program for long COVID sufferers: an opportunity to co-design. International Journal of Integrated Care. 2022;22(S3):229. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/ijic.ICIC22110
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Published on 04 Nov 2022.

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