Federal health officials have outlined five parts of a plan to improve and protect the well-being and mental health of America’s healthcare workers (HCWs) and create sustainable change for the next generation of HCWs.
“It’s long overdue for us to care for the people who provide care to us all and tackle the issue of burnout among our healthcare workers,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, said during an online seminar hosted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“My wish is that as we move forward we can begin this journey together to create a healthcare system, a healthcare environment, a country in which we can not only provide exceptional care to all those who need it, but also can take good care of those who have sacrificed so much and ensure they are healthy,” Murthy said.
Burnout Isn’t Selective
There are 20 million HCWs in the United States and no one is safe from burnout, according to NIOSH Director John Howard, MD.
He pointed out that between June and September of 2020 — the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic – 93% of HCWs reported some form of stress, with 22 percent reported moderate depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Looking at subsets of HCWs, a recent survey showed that 1 in 5 nurses considered quitting the profession because of inadequate staffing, intensity of workload physical and emotional toll of the job, as well as a lack of support, Howard noted.
Before the pandemic, physician burnout was a major issue. 79% of doctors were suffering from burnout. Howard said that 69% of those who were surveyed reported depression in autumn of 2020, and that 13% of them had thoughts of suicide.
Women in healthcare jobs are especially vulnerable to burnout; 76% of healthcare jobs are held by women, and 64% of physicians that feel burnt-out are women, as per federal data.
“We have a lot of work to do in shoring up the health and safety of women who are in healthcare,” Howard said.
Local and state public health workers are also experiencing mental health issues. A recent CDC survey of 26,000 employees revealed that 53% those had experienced symptoms of at least one mental condition in the last two weeks.
“That is really an alarming proportion of public health workers who are as vital and essential as doctors and nurses are in our healthcare system,” Howard said.
Primary Prevention Approach
To address the issue of burnout, NIOSH plans to:
Deep dive into the social, economic and personal challenges HCWs are confronted with every day.
Assimilate the evidence to create a repository of best practices, resources, interventions, and other details
Partner with key stakeholders such as the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association, National Nurses United and the Joint Commission.
Discover and adapt tools to the healthcare environment that promote stress reduction
NIOSH will also “generate awareness through a nationwide, multidimensional social marketing campaign to spread the word about stress so that healthcare workers don’t feel so alone,” Howard said.
The five-part plan is a primary method of preventing the risk factors for burnout and stress.
Secondary prevention, “when damage has already been done and you’re trying to save a healthcare worker who is suffering from a mental health issue, that’s a lot harder than taking a look at the ways to improve organizational practices that lead to healthcare workers stress and burnout,” Howard said.
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