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Pandemic worsened health care workers’ mental health: CDC


New report shows worrying increase in burnout and harassment among employees

While the COVID-19 pandemic was stressful for employees everywhere, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study finds health care workers felt its effects more acutely than most others.

Authors of the CDC’s Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report analyzed data from the General Social Survey Quality of Worklife Module to identify potential strategies for combatting burnout among health care workers. They compared self-reported mental health symptoms among 1,443 adults in 2018—including 226 health care workers--and 1,952 adults in 2022, of whom 325 worked in health care.

The results showed the percentage of health care workers saying they felt burned out “often” or “very often” grew from 32% in 2018 to about 46% in 2022, while among all other workers it increased from about 34% to 37%. Health care workers reported a mean of 4.5 days of poor mental health in the past 30, compared to 4.3 among all workers, and 44% of health care workers said they were “somewhat” or “very” likely to look for a new job in the next year compared to 39% of all workers.

Significantly, the survey also found the share of health care workers reporting workplace harassment, including threats, bullying and verbal abuse from patients and coworkers, more than doubled from 6.4% to 13.4% between 2018 and 2022. Among all workers, however, reports of harassment declined from 7% to 6.6%.

The survey also found that the odds of health care workers burning out decreased if they trusted management, felt supported by supervisors, were given enough time to complete their work, and felt that their workplace supported productivity.

In a press briefing accompanying release of the report Casey Chosewood, MD, MPH, director and senior medical officer in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Office for Total Worker Health said, “Many of our nation’s health care systems are at their breaking point. Staffing crises, lack of supportive leadership, long hours of work and excessive demands and flexibilities in our nation’s health systems, all must be addressed.”

Chosewood also called on health care employers to take “immediate preventive actions” addressing the mental health crisis among workers.

“We know from previous research that organizational system wide interventions are more effective than individually focused intervention approaches,” he said. “We don’t just want to treat workers who are suffering, we want to prevent that harm to all workers in the first place. The ultimate goal is to build a sustainable infrastructure for future generations of health workers that optimizes the culture of healthcare settings."

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