Providers Must Change How Workers Are Treated to Survive COVID-19

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The likelihood of long-term care and other providers surviving severe staffing shortages and the COVID-19 crisis depends on their ability to transform how health workers are treated so they can continue their important work for the sector, according to a new article, which was published in JAMA health forum.

“If burnout becomes too great and sufficient numbers of nurses, nurses and doctors leave the practice, the result could be a health care system implosion,” wrote David M. Cutler, Ph.D. from Harvard.

Burnout, while a long-standing healthcare concern, has become a key concern for the industry due to the public health emergency. A December study found nurses were 20% more likely than the general workforce to have had thoughts of suicide in the past year.

The Department of Health and Human Services last week pledged $103 million in grants to curb burnout and understaffing among health care workers.

Data has also shown that 35% of frontline healthcare workers will or will no longer work in this field in five to 10 years, noted Cutler, a professor of applied economics at Harvard.

While wage increases are usually the first response, this hasn’t halted the overall decline in the industry’s available labor force, leaving providers overwhelmed and employing more staff from recruitment agencies. Cutler argued that the only way for vendors to respond to the changing environment is to keep employees happy.

“Healthcare workers take pride in their good work, but are very frustrated by how difficult it is to practice,” he wrote.

“At the start of the pandemic, pride was the dominant emotion – remember the crowds cheering on health workers at the end of each shift. As the pandemic has entered its third year, it is being replaced by frustration,” he added.

Cutler stressed the need for workplace improvements now. Positive changes for workers can include greater use of telemedicine to help employees be less anxious about the environment.

“How will we feel when we finally manage to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, only to find that healthcare workers want nothing to do with what comes next,” he said closed.

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