Wendy Dean & Simon G. Talbot
Originally posted 25 Nov 20
Covid-19 is roaring back for a third wave. The first two substantially increased feelings of moral injury and burnout among health care workers. This one is bringing burnover.
Health care systems are scrambling anew. The crises of ICU beds at capacity, shortages of personal protective equipment, emergency rooms turning away ambulances, and staff shortages are happening this time not in isolated hot spots but in almost every state. Clinicians again face work that is risky, heart-rending, physically exhausting, and demoralizing, all the elements of burnout. They have seen this before and are intensely frustrated it is happening again.
Too many of them are leaving health care long before retirement. The disconnect between what health care workers know and how the public is behaving, driven by relentless disinformation, is unbearable. Paraphrasing a colleague, “How can they call us essential and then treat us like we are disposable?”
It is time for leaders of hospitals and health care systems to add another, deeper layer of support for their staff by speaking out publicly and collectively in defense of science, safety, and public health, even if it risks estranging patients and politicians.
Long before the pandemic emerged, the relationships between health care organizations and their staffs were already strained by years of cost-cutting that trimmed staffing levels, supplies, and space to the bone. Driven by changes in health care reimbursement structures, systems were “optimized” to the point that they were continually running at what felt like full capacity, with precious little slack to accommodate minor surges, much less one the magnitude of a global pandemic.