Pandemics are a pervasive, rapid spread of disease, with exponentially rising cases over a large area. Endemic viruses, meanwhile, are constantly present and have predictable spread. That predictability allows health care systems and doctors to prepare and adapt, reducing loss of life.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Healthcare Professionals
During the pandemic, more focus was placed on mental wellbeing, stress, burnout, and safety. Even with this focus, we saw record numbers of healthcare professionals leaving their careers, and tragically, suicide rates of nurses increased even more than the staggering rates from pre-pandemic data.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Violent Death Reporting System found that between 2007 and 2018, nurses were 18% more likely to die from suicide than the general population. Updated research from Mayo Clinic published in the November 2021 issue of the American Journal of Nursing used responses from a national survey on well-being, which included questions on burnout and depression. The authors found that 5.5 percent of nurses experienced suicidal ideation (thoughts of killing oneself), approximately 1 percent higher than other workers. After controlling for factors such as age, gender, work hours, relationship status, and burnout, it was estimated that nurses had significantly higher odds — 38 percent — of having suicidal thoughts than other workers.
Support Includes a Focus on Wellbeing, Stress Levels, Mental Health, Safety, and Education Through the Endemic
On March 2022, Federal Health Officials said the U.S. had entered the endemic stage of the COVID-19 outbreak. So, what, if anything, does this mean for the care and support of our healthcare professionals? Clearly there was a need for more support before the pandemic. In an endemic, does the support go back to “normal” too? Healthcare professionals take care of us in our time of need. Don’t we owe it to them to take care of them? As we move into this endemic time, we need to continue focusing on their wellbeing, their level of stress, mental health, and safety. And I would add onto this education as well.
The need for a focus on their wellbeing has not diminished, and in fact, it has increased. There are fewer nurses at the bedside, which has increased ratios for them to care for more patients. Patients coming into the hospital are far sicker with more complications. And the economy and other factors outside the work they perform impacts their mental health. They also can’t “unsee” the devastating demise of their patients day in and day out over the past two years, often being the only person able to be with a dying patient, bearing that burden alone, over and over again.
As employers, we can continue to help and address their needs. And their needs may differ, so having flexibility in programs to allow the healthcare professional to meet their own individual needs is important. Access to these programs is also a consideration. This is by way of app, physical location, times available, etc. Most insurance companies now provide wellness and mental health as part of their service offerings for enrollees. Listen to your employees.
Education is also a continued need for the growth and learning of our healthcare professionals. This has been an area of great stagnation over the past two years as well. Medicine is constantly evolving, and healthcare professionals are at the frontline of each transformation. Not having the necessary time to train and to have facilitation of new material and technology can add additional stress to the healthcare professional. We need to provide them the necessary time and training to be confident and proficient in their skills. As individuals respond and learn differently, there needs to be flexible training methodologies, which could include simulation, virtual simulation, webinars, coaching and rounding. Access to continuous education and learning for healthcare professionals provides improved patient care, improved healthcare professional morale and motivation, and a more skilled workforce.
We, as employers of healthcare professionals, can have an impact on our healthcare community through this endemic. Let’s be there for our healthcare professionals and provide them the resources they need personally and professionally to continue to take care of us!