Caring for the Mental Health of Healthcare Workers

As of December 2021, almost 50 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with close to 800,000 deaths from the disease. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not the only crisis the healthcare industry is facing right now. In light of the current increased burden on the healthcare system, the American Nurses Association considers the nursing shortage to be a national crisis as well. 

A nationwide shortage of registered nurses (RNs) was already a problem before the pandemic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 1.1 million new RNs will be needed by 2022 to replace nurses expected to retire or leave the profession. Then, over the next 10 years, healthcare organizations will look to fill almost 195,000 RN job openings annually—but many of these positions may go unfilled. Data compiled for the 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report reveals that 62% of the hospitals surveyed have a nursing job vacancy rate of over 7.5% at their facilities. 

In the middle of these statistics are the nurses who care for COVID-19 patients. The staffing shortages, together with the pandemic, are harming their mental health and increasing the rate of burnout. Most of the nation’s hospital workers are exhausted after almost two years of working under pandemic conditions of increased patient loads and mandatory overtime. 

Beyond the pandemic statistics

Imagine being a healthcare worker who goes to work each day with these fears in mind:

  • Will today be the day I catch COVID-19 from a patient?
  • Will I bring COVID-19 home to my loved ones?
  • Will there be enough personal protective equipment for me today?
  • Will there be an ICU bed available for my patient if they need one?

Statistics reveal how prevalent anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns are among healthcare workers. During the summer of 2020, Mental Health America, a nationwide, community-based nonprofit conducted a survey of 1,119 healthcare workers. When the participants were asked how they had been feeling over the last three months, the most common answer was emotional exhaustion (82%). Other responses included:

  • 93% of participants reported feeling stress
  • 75% of participants felt overwhelmed
  • 63% felt work-related dread
  • 55% questioned their career choice

Perhaps most concerning is that more than half (52%) of these caregiver respondents admitted feeling compassion fatigue.

The workers in support roles at healthcare facilities are also feeling the strain of the COVID-19 surges. This includes non-clinician staff in administrative roles, custodians, X-ray and lab technicians, patient transport staff and cafeteria workers.

Supporting healthcare workers’ mental health

In March 2021, Trusted Health conducted a follow-up survey about the mental health of frontline nurses. It showed that nurses continued to struggle with stress, depression and a decline in their mental health. 

Out of the 1000 nurses surveyed, 95% said they felt their mental well-being was not being prioritized or supported by the healthcare industry. When asked to rate the efforts of their current employer on a scale of 1 to 10, the average of the ratings was 4.6. More than one out of five participants gave their employer a rating of 1 (1 meaning not at all satisfied with their employer’s efforts). 

The American Medical Association offers some recommendations to leadership of healthcare organizations to care for the mental well-being of their staff:

  • When possible, be flexible with scheduling. Adjust staff schedules to give extra time off or rotate staff to less stressful duty stages. 
  • Monitor staff well-being with frequent “check-ins”. 
  • Partner senior staff with less-experienced nurses to give support and to answer concerns. 
  • Encourage staff—but don’t force them—to speak openly with management about their concerns without fear of consequences. 
  • Offer mental health resources such as stress management programs (yoga or meditation areas) and easy access to counselors through telehealth. Encourage staff to use them.  

Promote self-care

Healthcare workers can become so focused on caring for their patients that managers may have to remind their staff to take care of themselves. Long shifts in heavy, uncomfortable personal protective equipment can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion. 

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress recommends that healthcare workers take breaks during the workday that may include:

  • Sitting at a quiet table to eat a nutritious meal or snack
  • Doing something comforting and relaxing, like taking a walk outside the building, listening to music, or talking to a friend
  • Making a phone call to check in with loved ones
  • Speaking to a colleague or manager about concerns
  • Avoiding news and social media that may be upsetting or cause anxiety

Concordance Healthcare Solutions takes the stress out of supply chain management

While we may not be able to alleviate staffing shortages or overtime requirements, Concordance Healthcare Solutions can offer supply chain services and inventory management software to prevent, address and eliminate supply chain issues. We have end-to-end visibility with a large global network of vetted and trusted suppliers. Predictive analytics built into our customizable, user-friendly supply chain management software build resilience in your supply chain. 

We don’t want any healthcare organization to be concerned about getting the medical supplies they need to protect their workers or care for their patients. We are dedicated to providing reliable, stress-free supply chain management so you can stay focused on providing excellent care to patients. 

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