From the home office of Senior Director of Marketing, Cynthia Spitalny:
We have all heard the stories from the pandemic splashed across news headlines. Hospitals reaching capacity. Not enough ventilators to accommodate the critically ill. A PPE shortage including a shortage of N95 masks. But what many of you didn’t hear were the daily decisions that healthcare professionals (HCPs) had to make or had to endure as our scientific, medical, and political factions collided. That collision of sometimes competing forces and influences – and the human impact that had, and continues to have – on our healthcare workers became the premise of our newest campaign, Who Saves Me?
Anxiety and Healthcare Worker Burnout
My husband, Ray, is a physician assistant and is typically a very calm, easy going person. After the first couple months of working under the duress of the pandemic though, he felt barraged and overwhelmed. I am not sure that there was a single moment when I understood that he was burnt out versus it being a series of changes that I saw in him over time (expressing more fear, tension, and unease more regularly), but I knew he was near a breaking point, and that broke my heart.
When I spoke to others with loved ones who were also on the front lines of the pandemic, I heard similar stories. Jacob Gonzalez, one of our practice sales representatives at Outcome Health, told me the following when I asked how his brother’s experience as an HCP during the pandemic impacted him personally:
“For me, it was stressful in the sense that my brother was frequently in a high-risk environment. He ended up contracting COVID-19 and self-isolating for nearly three weeks until his symptoms were gone. His recovery was awesome, but it was still overshadowed by my anxiety of him going back to work and maybe getting sick again. I actually ended up speaking with a therapist…and learned that I was disassociating due to my anxiety. She talked both my brother and I through some techniques to help our mindset while we were both so shaken by the pandemic….I guess the moral is that the anxiety was absolutely unavoidable in every sense.”
What Causes Healthcare Worker and Physician Burnout?
Within a 4 week period, the hospital that Ray works for communicated the following to all staff:
- We are doing everything we can to not lay anyone off (while the hospital is near or at capacity and HCPs are working longer and longer hours to accommodate the increased patient load).
- We will need to furlough some staff, layoff others, and everyone is going to have to make sacrifices (while their HCPs work longer hours and take on more patients, they cut 401Ks, salaries, and bonuses of HCPs, including my husband’s).
- If you are not dealing with COVID-19 in your unit, then HCPs should not be wearing a mask with patients (while HCPs risk their lives treating patients, even when we did not know enough about the virus to ensure their and their families’ safety. HCPs could receive a citation on their record if they decided to wear a mask in order to protect themselves).
- Everyone in all units has to wear a mask (but they don’t have enough for all HCPs so every HCP and service worker has to bring in their own masks).
- These are all the drugs that we have in our hospital so triage decisions may need to be made (as certain quantities of medications dwindled, forcing HCPs to triage patients and play “god,” making life or death decisions when there were shortages. This includes devices, like ventilators, in many cases).
Drastic changes in medical protocols and bureaucratic shifts that didn’t always account for HCPs’ own health and protection left an indelible mark on Ray. With every decision that was made and rolled out, he couldn’t help but wonder, “but who’s looking out for me?” This question took up mental space in both his day-to-day personal and professional interactions – mental space that he had reserved to be fully focused on the patient when he was at work. All of this, coupled with the daily stressors of normal life (aging and ill parents, family, bills, chores, home repairs, etc…) left Ray feeling completely burnt out. He had waning energy to plan any down time, Me time, nor were the usual outlets for dealing with burnout safely available (friend outings, world travel, date nights, and more).
Healthcare Professionals are Patients, too
Ray’s experience and Jacob’s brother’s experience were not isolated instances though. News headlines during the first wave of the pandemic began touching on stories about HCPs who were exhausted in every sense with no relief in sight. One HCP went so far as to commit suicide. Given some recent statistics on HCP burnout – including that 92% of HCPs have felt burnout because of their job, and 50% have felt depressed as a result of burnout* – I think back to a question that Ray posed, which haunted my everyday thoughts, Who Saves Me?
And so, it is with heartfelt gratitude to these HCPs – like my husband, like Jacob’s brother, and so many other HCPs – that we, at Outcome Health, launch Who Saves Me? in English and Spanish, a PSA-style initiative to support HCPs who may need mental health resources and support.
To all the HCPs who are risking their lives – and mental health – everyday to keep us healthy and safe: Thank you. We see you. We are here for you. If you’re struggling with burnout, go to MHAscreening.org to check your mental health.
If you are an organization interested in helping healthcare professionals manage their mental health, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Sermo poll, Sept 2020
More on the blog: May is Mental Health Awareness Month
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