Joint Commission: Burned out healthcare workers need a lifeline

Dive Brief:

  • Working through the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year has pushed healthcare workers to their limits, and systems should take steps to better manage their concerns to ensure their safety and well-being, according to a report published Tuesday by the Joint Commission.
  • A review of more than 2,000 comments to the Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety found the most common concerns among healthcare workers are fear of the unknown, fear of getting sick and fear of bringing the virus home. Staff shortages were another frequently cited issue.
  • To rebuild trust and morale, the report encourages systems to foster more open and transparent communications with their workers. It also suggests organizations provide greater access to mental health services and consider more flexible scheduling.

Dive Insight:

Healthcare workers are indispensable as the country continues its fight against COVID-19 — but many are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, according to the Joint Commission report.

It draws on comments submitted by healthcare workers, their families and their patients, and combines them with a study from C+R Research completed on behalf of the Joint Commission in December. And it jibes with other recent findings that show hospital staff are taking a tremendous toll during the COVID-19 crisis.

Almost a year into the pandemic, the C+R research report found healthcare organizations continuing to struggle with shortages of personal protective equipment and other supplies. At the same time, managing frequently changing information remains a challenge, respondents said.

Staffing issues pose the greatest problem, with respondents saying they are particularly difficult to address due to challenges in hiring (41%), infections and quarantines (40%) and childcare needs (37%).

The pandemic’s impact on staffing, both in the short and long term, were cited as a major concern among both workers and healthcare organizations.

COVID-19 spurred a variety of workforce reduction measures last year when major systems had to pause elective procedures and other services. Workers cited concerns about current and future staffing shortages and job and pay security, according to the report.

The Joint Commission offers five steps healthcare organizations can take to support their workforce, starting with making communications more transparent.

Fostering open discussions “helps organizations to work toward achieving high reliability by promoting a heightened sensitivity to operations — encouraging the reporting of concerns, unsafe conditions, and any other aspect that would affect performance expectations at the front line of work,” according to the report.

Removing barriers to accessing mental health treatment is another key step.

The Joint Commission issued a statement in May about organizations needing to eliminate policies that reinforce stigma and fear about the professional consequences of seeking mental health treatment for healthcare workers.

More flexible scheduling options are another way to support workers. Some examples include monitoring and limiting hours spent in high-risk or stressful situations, and limiting non-essential calls, emails and other job requirements during crisis situations. Organizations should also provide more transparency around sick leave and return to work policies.