Health Care

Addressing healthcare worker burnout as another COVID-19 fall nears

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As the healthcare system deals with COVID-19 surges across the country, the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant and overfilled hospitals, workers are facing another fall in the virus’ grip.

“The moment I heard about the delta variant, I felt a headache coming on,” said Elizabeth DuBois, a nurse practitioner and principal and chief people officer at COPE Health Solutions, a healthcare consulting company. “It’s not something we’re ready to handle again mentally.”

In the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021, 79% of the more than 12,000 physicians who responded said their burnout began before the pandemic. During the pandemic, 93% of healthcare workers polled by Mental Health America said they had experienced stress in the past three months, 86% reported anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.

That’s why it’s important for employers to understand the level of burnout at their organizations and take steps to decrease it, DuBois said. 

She suggests implementing some sort of mechanism, like a weekly call survey, one-on-one check-ins or having managers do rounds, to regularly assess burnout levels and figure out which interventions are working and which are not. 

“You’re setting up some sort of regular cadence to make sure you’re measuring the pulse. You’re measuring the burnout,” DuBois said. 

And at a Kaiser facility in southern California, COPE Health worked with the organization to identify high school and college students and adults interested in healthcare to assist during the pandemic.

Things like higher rates of turnover, absences and tardiness and a decrease in overall professionalism can be indicators of burnout among staff, DuBois said. Instead of taking punitive actions against workers, employers can instead look at the cause of those transgressions and try to help the employee. 

Employers can also help reduce the burden on workers by allowing them to work at the top of their license, DuBois said. By training nonclinical staff to take on administrative tasks, clinical staff can focus on patient care, she said. Nationwide, 24 states plus the District of Columbia, for instance, have given full practice authority to nurse practitioners. Delaware became the latest to join the movement in early August when Gov. John Carney enacted a law allowing NPs to practice without supervision by a physician.

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