How Are Hospital Workers Coping Amid COVID-19 Pandemic?

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“Still scared”, said one doctor at Elmhurst Hospital, which was swamped with patients in late March as the virus rampaged through New York.

The New York Post reports that a PA recalled her husband leaving food on the cellar stairs while she isolated herself for months for fear of infecting her family: “I felt like an animal”, she said.

At hospitals around the country, nurses, doctors, and other health care workers are dealing with the psychological toll of the virus fight, coupled with fears that the disease could flare anew later this year.

Health care workers have been cheered as heroes in the virus crisis, and some have found the challenge and teamwork deeply meaningful. But the work also has been exhausting and traumatic, even for people accustomed to a life-and-death job.

A psychologist at the hospital said: “Witnessing death and feeling exposed to life-threatening risk repeatedly in a single workday can have prolonged effects”. She’s working with about two dozen health care professionals who are grappling with sleeplessness, edginess, and other reactions to the pandemic.

She encourages them to see their experiences “for what they really are, which is going through something that no one is really prepared for.”

In the SF Bay area, 37 workers at St. Rose Hospital had become infected with COVID-19, according to a spokesman.

Mercury News reports that 26 of the infected workers are in the medical/surgical/telemetry unit. Two others work in a department that interacts with the unit and the other nine work in a department that has occasional contact with the unit.  

More than 50 workers at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center have tested positive for the virus, and Santa Clara County changed its worker notification policy after a whistleblower complaint raised concerns about the hospital’s handling of cases among staff.

But as front-line workers emerge from months of warlike chaos in their workplaces, mental health experts are already noticing a massive surge in mental health needs among a traumatized workforce.

Health care experts expect an increase in suicides, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other mental health conditions — a toll already seen in places like New York City, where Dr. Lorna M. Breen, an emergency department medical director treating COVID-19 patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, died by suicide in late April.

Financial considerations are adding to the burden, too.

Staff at Chicago’s Northwest Memorial Hospital learned this week about losses in vacation, retirement fund matches, and raises. The explanation: revenues down from non-essential procedures put on hold and costs rising from fighting COVID-19.

According to CBS2 Chicago, staff learned leadership was taking a 20% pay cut.  But those on the front lines of healthcare are also impacted, with scaled-back vacation time, 401K matches eliminated, and raises put on hold.