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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

NIOSH Seeking Mental Health Strategies, Interventions for Health Care Workers

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has extended the comment deadline to Jan. 25, 2022, on its Request for Information on “interventions and strategies to protect the mental health” of medical workers.

Healthcare workers were suffering burnout symptoms before SARS-CoV-2 emerged in 2020. Exacerbated by the pandemic, stress levels, and what some call moral injury, have increased to the degree that some are leaving the profession.

“Health workers face many demands at work, which may include difficult working conditions, long work hours, rotating and irregular shifts, exposure to human suffering and death, and increased risks for personal exposure to disease and harm,” NIOSH stated. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges and contributed to new and worsening mental health concerns, including burnout, compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and suicidal ideation.”

A branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIOSH asked for input on programs and interventions, including “how stigma associated with seeking mental health care is addressed, and how health workers are encouraged to participate. In your experience, how does the workplace benefit from implementing interventions or offering services to health workers to prevent/reduce work-related stress?”

An anonymous commenter to the NIOSH request for information said, “We are living in unprecedented times. I worked frontline at a rural health clinic for over 1.5 years providing rapid COVID tests, and after that vaccines. Overwhelm[ed] was not even close to how I was feeling. I could not quit because of my financial obligations, but I dreaded coming to work every day. It seemed as if no one cared at all. I was terrified for my safety as well as the safety of my loved ones.”

Among the resources suggested to NIOSH was Stress First Aid for Healthcare Workers,” a compendium of strategies and assessment tools to address the growing mental health crisis in healthcare.

Published by the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) this 2020 manual and workbook includes many useful tools, including stress and mental health assessments along a continuum from “ready, reacting, injured, and ill.”

Gary Evans, BA, MA, has written numerous articles on infectious disease threats to both patients and healthcare workers. These include stories on HIV, SARS, SARS-CoV-2, pandemic influenza, MERS, and Ebola. He has been honored for excellence in analytical reporting five times by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.