Authored by George Citroner via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Health care workers are experiencing burnout, harassment, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health symptoms at alarming levels, a Vital Signs report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found.
Experts warn this could lead to critical health care staffing shortages, threatening patient care at a time when an aging population needs it most.
“It’s a looming crisis,” Dr. Timothy Sullivan, chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, told The Epoch Times, urging swift action before the problem becomes a full-blown emergency.
“Everybody’s saying this is alarming, but what are we doing?” he said.
Health Care Worker Injuries Surge Over 250 Percent
The CDC analyzed data from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey, comparing mental health symptoms reported by 1,443 adult workers in 2018 and 1,952 in 2022. The respondents were grouped into three categories: health care workers, other essential workers, and all other workers.
Health workers experienced a nearly 250 percent increase in work-related injury and illness rates between 2019 and 2020, according to the CDC team led by Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, director of the Office for Total Worker Health at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
“Many of our nation’s health care systems are at their breaking point,” Dr. Chosewood said at a press conference. “Staffing crises, lack of supportive leadership, long hours of work, excessive demands, and inflexibilities in our nation’s health systems all must be addressed.”
COVID-19 intensified many health workers’ longstanding challenges, but it also “contributed to new and worsening concerns,” said Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer. These include compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
Harassment Fuels Health Care Worker Burnout
The CDC survey found nearly 46 percent of health care workers reported frequent burnout in 2022, up from 32 percent in 2018.
Harassment in the form of threats, bullying, verbal abuse, and hostile actions from patients or coworkers was a significant contributor, more than doubling since 2018, from 6.4 percent to 13.4 percent in 2022. Those reporting harassment were more likely to have anxiety, depression, and burnout, according to the report.
About Half of Health Care Workers Look to Quit
Intentions by health workers to change jobs also increased, with 44 percent in 2022 reporting they were likely or very likely to look for a new job in the next year. The turnover intention in 2018 for health workers was 33 percent.
The share of workers in the other two survey groups who planned to seek a different job decreased.
Who’s to Blame?
Fundamental health care system issues, such as the way the system is organized, both at an institutional level and as a business, are at play, according to Dr. Sullivan. “It has become a very big business,” he noted.
Reordering priorities is needed to invest in resources that make health care work “more livable” and expand access to care that lessens long-term burdens, he added.
Rehaul Health Care to Cut Worker Burnout: Expert
Seeing many die during the pandemic took a toll, but health care workers mainly needed “financial resources to help care for their families,” Dr. Sullivan said. This was particularly true for nurses and other frontline health care workers, he noted. They “needed time off from work and help paying bills, and so on.”
Dr. Sullivan said that he had been directly involved in efforts to provide “psychological first aid” to assist providers with the traumatic aspects of health care work.
But real solutions require rethinking how we’ve organized health care, he added. It’s not just raising salaries. More people doing the work to improve access and quality and lower worker stress are needed, according to Dr. Sullivan.
“Unfortunately, our health care system is heavily, heavily slanted towards richly reimbursing procedures that are high-cost, [and] highly profitable, even for nonprofit hospitals,” he said.