If you have been to a doctor recently, in a hospital, clinic, urgent care, or the emergency room, you can see the significant strain in the healthcare system. This stress, staff shortages, employee trauma, lack of space, the influx of people getting tested for protentional Covid-19, nurse terminations, vaccine mandates, lack of senior nursing staff, coupled with nurses being forced to play a role in the connection between families and their sick and dying patients is the perfect storm for the mental health surge in both nurses and doctors.
Dire working conditions, complex work-life balance, and environmental factors outside of the healthcare provider's control have hurt them both physically and mentally in ways that are now finally getting some overdue attention.
"What really jumped out to me is how many different categories of nurses report such high levels of stress that they were at risk for suffering from PTSD," said Kate Judge, executive director of the American Nurses Foundation.
"We're seeing the stress and the burnout across the nursing profession," from school nurses, to nurse managers and nurse leaders, who are under "extraordinary stress," she noted.
The data also reflect some "really worrying statistics" among nurses working in critical care, as well as among younger nurses, which is particularly troubling because "they're our future," she added.
Roughly 51% of nurses ages 25 to 34 reported feeling "not emotionally healthy."
As for critical care nurses, 80% reported feeling "stressed" or "exhausted" in the last 14 days, while nearly half felt "depressed," 39% reported feeling "numb," and 15% felt "worthless," according to the survey. Asked about their behavior, 71% reported increased difficulty sleeping in the prior 14 days, 45% reported overeating, 29% reported increased alcohol consumption, 6% reported increased suicidal thoughts, and 2% reported increased "self-injurious behavior."
See the link above to see other statistics on this crisis. We need to do better. How will patients survive if their healthcare providers are not well? How will those that answered the call to care for our family members in healthcare continue to work in such a toxic and unhealthy environment?
I have said it many times, I rarely have met a nurse I don't like. I can count less than five. Of the five, at least two were a product of their environment, especially during Covid-19. Nurses are the leaders of the team if you are in a hospital.
I don't care how fancy your degree is and how many letters you have behind your name; nurses run the show. They can make or break the system, your care, and your experience.
This blog represents just one subset of people and occupations that have been negatively affected by Covid-19 and poor policy and employee management. These are issues beyond the lay person's control. You can't control the pandemic and manage the treatment or mental health of the healthcare staff you meet.
Or can you?
One major issue with the increase in nurse responsibilities and stress is the lack of visitation allowed in hospitals and the inability for loved ones to go with their family member to clinics, tests, and even your local doctor's office.
There are security guards at the entrance of hospitals in New York State that say "No Visitors Allowed." You will find the same signs everywhere. Last week my husband went to a local hospital to pick up a CAT scan CD for me from medical records. We called in advance, and they would not let him into the hospital without a vaccine passport. Without getting into my views on vaccine mandates and passports to eat at flipping Burger King, by not allowing family members to visit hospitalized patients or accompany patients to doctors appointments, more responsibilities are passed on to the nurses, and the nurses right now have no capacity for additional tasks.
For example, nurses generally do rounds on a surgical floor hourly. If you are visiting the patient and the patient needs something, you as the visitor can walk to the nursing station and relay the message to get what is needed; it could be as simple as a refill of water, medication request, or report symptoms need attention. This presence and assistance is critical to the patient's care and has a genuine influence and effect on the quality of patient care. It also helps the nurses and the entire patient team. You are not on the payroll, but you are indeed on the patient care team by default, and it is a critical role.
Policies prohibiting or limiting family members and friends from visiting are meant to address public health and safety issues. However, the absence or limited presence of patient support systems are creating, once again, additional strains on nurses.
Prohibited or limited visitation can also contribute to unintended safety consequences for patients, such as an increased potential for missed care, falls, and delayed recognition of deterioration. Limited visitation also exacerbates inequities among patients and families of different socioeconomic status, since not everyone has equal access to the technologies needed to connect virtually with their loved ones.
See the attached article from September before omicron: https://www.medpagetoday.com/opinion/second-opinions/94340
So how can you help?
Unfortunately, if the hospital requires vaccination and you are not vaccinated, you need to be tested. A negative test is good for 72 hours (at least in my area). If you do not have symptoms, you have to make them up. I know it sounds ridiculous because it is. Everyone gets a headache, right? We are all potentially exposed if we go to the grocery store, right? Get tested and make sure you get to the bedside, especially if your friend, family, and loved one is very sick. Please don't go to an emergency room to be tested!
How do we help the nurses?
Offer an ear (they are going through a lot and have been)
Wherever you stand on the vaccine mandate decision, support them. Last year's heroes should not be this year's scapegoats.
They have families too. If you know a nurse, see if they need anything. It could be as simple as getting a pizza delivered to greeting them at your appointment with a coffee in hand. The potential to be kind and pay it forward is endless.
If you see that they are short, unprofessional, non-empathetic, cold, withdrawn, etc., especially in an emergency room, give them the feedback. If they get defensive and it seems like there is a severe problem, ask to speak to their manager. It may be stress-related (and they may need help), BUT they are critical to care, so they also need to be on point. Either way, whatever the cause, if you see something, say something because you might be helping them out and the next patient.
They are human have empathy.
Finally, right now, the workplace is not healthy for most. Among all nurses, 21% reported an "intent to leave" their position in the next six months, and another 29% said they may leave. Among critical care nurses, 30% signaled an intent to leave, and another third said they may leave their position in the next six months.
Additionally, close to 40% of nurses disagreed with the statement, "my organization really cares about my well-being."
40% is a significant number. It is almost half. That is a dangerous amount of disgruntled employees. You can be their voice. Again, if you see something, say something. Do it tactfully and professionally, but you can help them by writing your governmental legislators that are making decisions that fuel poor morale, staff shortages, and terminations. You can also write the heads of the medical groups they work for. You don't have to give names. Just tell them that you are concerned and that as a "client," they need to do better for the population (nurses) that make the offices, clinics, and hospitals run. If you don't know where to begin, google the C suite. The responsibility lies at the top. In some cases, their hands are tied because of governmental guidance and rules, but you can still be heard.
Poor employee management and bad morale lead to poor work quality and mistakes; that can be deadly in healthcare.