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By Gary Evans, Medical Writer
Many have died and more have been sickened, but the nation’s healthcare workers are grimly holding the line against the worst pandemic in a century.
Those who survive may pay a mental health price, a “moral injury” not unlike soldiers returning from war.
The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Boston is addressing these current and looming issues through a series of webinars and papers on “psychological PPE.” Much as they don masks, gloves and gowns, medical workers need to protect their mental health.
“Every disaster brings with it a second disaster,” said Donald Berwick, MD, MPP, president emeritus and a senior fellow at the IHI. “The first is whatever the insult is — in this case COVID-19 and the tragedies associated with it. The second is the behavioral health responses which occur both in the community and the work force.”
Berwick has a personal stake in the issue, as his daughter is a physician at a Boston area hospital.
“She is OK, but I can see the toll taken on her and many of her colleagues by the stresses of this dreaded disease — the deaths and despair around them and the risks they incur every day,” he said at a recent IHI webinar.
The pressure goes beyond the clinical staff, as those who support their work face similar risk and stress, often with fewer resources.
“We have to remember that the vast majority of healthcare workers are not people of high income — they are not people who have the prestige of being physicians or nurses,” Berwick said. “These are people who work to keep the hospital going. They are the people serving the food, cleaning the rooms, and supporting the clinical staff. We know that they are under tremendous stress, including the stress of the economic downturn.”
For more on this story, see the October 2020 issue of Hospital Employee Health.