Learning from Covid-19 Healthcare Worker Burnout – STAT
WWith the authorizations of several effective Covid-19 vaccines and a strong vaccination program in place, concerns about the burnout of healthcare workers who have been on the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic for more than 18 months have started to fade. Then Delta became a family talk as vaccination rates are well below expectations, keeping healthcare workers in the trenches.
Burnout was an almost daily topic before Covid-19, but after several overwhelming cycles of the pandemic and with a further rise in infections, this systemic exhaustion has grown from a concern to a crisis.
For many healthcare workers, this round seems personal and tragically preventable. Why? Because, since July, over 99% of recent deaths from Covid-19 are among the unvaccinated.
If burnout is left untreated, it can lead to lasting mental health complications. Multiple studies show post-traumatic stress disorder among healthcare workers in the aftermath of the SARS outbreak in 2002. Equally worrying, there will likely be continuous exodus of healthcare workers in the industry if healthcare leaders do not take immediate and drastic action to stem the rapid turnover rate.
Healthcare workers have presented themselves day in and day out, under the most difficult circumstances, and it is time – high time, in fact – to come forward for them. Healthcare leaders have a responsibility to build resilience and protect mental well-being as healthcare workers continue to grapple with the complexities of treating Covid-19.
While it is tempting to push for targeted improvement under the guise of ‘let’s get through this moment before making changes’, delaying important work on combating burnout is doing healthcare workers a disservice. who need support and relief. now. Even as hospitals continue to see influxes of Covid-19 patients, there are steps health officials can take now to advance welcome and much-needed changes.
Know and articulate the objectives and values of the organization and link them to current initiatives. Health care should not be willing to accept staff injury and caregiver burnout as inevitable. Leaders can – and should – prioritize creating a culture of safety throughout healthcare, where employees know they will be both safe and supported in the workplace. job. Many other complex and high-risk industries, such as nuclear power and aviation, have implemented high reliability practices with rigorous processes to protect employees and, by extension, create safer operations. Covid-19 may be the catalyst to finally address persistent safety issues in healthcare in an intentional and systemic manner.
Speak up for vaccines. While healthcare leaders may not be able to join their clinical team members, they can use their influence to speak out for Covid-19 vaccines. Misinformation about these vaccines is rampant, and leaders and employees in hospitals, health systems and medical centers can all play a role in increasing confidence in vaccines within their respective communities. Raising vaccination rates is a critical part of bringing relief to workers caring for Covid-19 patients and standing alongside staff in a tangible and visible way.
Hire frontline workers early and often. Burnout is driven by working conditions, and no one has a better perspective on what works – and what doesn’t – in healthcare organizations than those who work directly with patients. They have seen internal policies and practices (which don’t always match policies) pushed to their limits over the past 18 months and have invaluable insight. Successful change initiatives are informed by the experiences of employees at all levels and in a variety of roles. It is important to involve those on the front lines to understand their experiences and empower them as agents of change to contribute to lasting improvements. Listening is more essential than ever to find out what employees need now and to overcome their obstacles and challenges.
Healthcare has countless lessons to learn from Covid-19 – and even more opportunities to rebuild stronger and better on the other side of the pandemic. Healthcare leaders must take these lessons to heart and lead to positive and lasting change. Healthcare workers and the people they serve deserve nothing less.
Anne Marie Benedicto is vice-president of the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare.