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How COVID-19 has exacerbated burnout among care providers

by Valerie Dimond, Contributing Reporter | June 29, 2020
Business Affairs Risk Management
Working in healthcare has never been easy. Yet, many would say it’s never been this hard.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made one of the most difficult jobs even tougher, with burnout, emotional and physical exhaustion, anxiety, and depression on the rise exponentially. Although these problems are nothing new in healthcare, when unexpected catastrophe strikes an already-weakened environment, where active concern and respect for everyone’s well-being is lacking — coupled with a shortage of personal protective equipment, medical supplies and equipment — a bad situation just gets worse.

“They are under exceptional stress, being faced with extreme workloads, difficult decisions, risks of becoming infected and spreading infection to families and communities, and witnessing deaths of patients,” stated the World Health Organization in a policy brief released in May. “There have been reports of suicide attempts and suicide death by healthcare workers.”

Dr. M. Bridget Duffy, chief medical officer of Vocera Communications Inc., who was also the first chief experience officer in the U.S. at the Cleveland Clinic, is one of many who are concerned about how healthcare workers will cope going forward. “We already had a crisis of burnout and cognitive overload before COVID,” she said. “I can only imagine what post-COVID stress disorder syndrome and burnout will look like.”

Dr. M. Bridget Duffy
Duffy is part of a growing body of professionals who are urging healthcare organizations to get serious about making staff well-being a top priority at all times. Dr. William Maples is another. He is founder, president, and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Excellence, an organization that works with healthcare groups to develop and nurture the relational skills needed to create a culture of trust, respect, compassion, and teamwork — critical actions he says ultimately lead to quality, safety, and efficiency.

“It’s really been a challenge for the industry over the past decade,” said Maples. “Healthcare providers really need to deal with the roller coaster of emotions that happen throughout the day during these 15-20-30-minute blocks where we need to really be able to respond and connect to patients very differently based on what the clinical situation is — and do it in a way that if you are being authentic and truthful, they know that you really care. But that’s a real large roller coaster of emotions, more so than any other profession that I can think about, where you need to have the tools to respond and at the same time create enough space for your own self so that you don’t get overwhelmed by the process.”

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