For more than two years, America's healthcare workers have shouldered a tremendous weight in caring for those inflicted with COVID-19. And in the wake of this health pandemic, these professionals in the medical field have become increasingly beset by a decline in mental well-being. This week, the White House recognized the factors contributing to this alarming uptick. At a hospital in Washington, D.C. Vice President Kamala Harris joined Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and announced the Surgeon General’s Advisory Addressing Health Worker Burnout.
The advisory lays out recommendations to address the factors underpinning burnout, improve health worker well-being and strengthen the nation’s public health infrastructure. It comes at a critical time when COVID-19 infections are on the rise and COVID restrictions are on the decline. As of this week, the CDC is predicting that the number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions will likely increase, with 1,300 to 11,000 new confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions in the coming weeks.
“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a statement shared with EBONY. “COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. Now, we owe them a debt of gratitude and action. And if we fail to act, we will place our nation’s health at risk. This Surgeon General’s Advisory outlines how we can all help heal those who have sacrificed so much to help us heal.”
Sacrifices from healthcare workers have come in many forms, particularly for those in Black and Brown communities where the effects of COVID-19 were unparalleled. In numerous surveys, these professionals have identified increased stress and burnout since the start of the pandemic, as well as mental health decline from the unprecedented circumstances it brought with it.
For the White House, addressing this has come in the way of allocating over $100 million to reduce burnout and promote mental health and wellness among the health workforce outlined in the American Rescue Plan. The HHS has also announced the release of over $200 million to train community health workers to help address staff shortages caused by burnout. The CDC has released a strategic plan for addressing health worker burnout, that includes improved data collection, mental health screenings, better training, and increased communication about health worker burnout.
Mental health wellness for healthcare workers was a concern prior to March 2020, with more than half of all public health workers reporting symptoms of a mental health condition. Murthy, and the White House’s top medical professionals see the remedy to this coming from a whole of society approach that includes transforming workplace culture to empower health workers, eliminating punitive policies for seeking mental health and substance use disorder care, and reducing administrative burdens to help health workers have more productive time with patients, communities and colleagues.
“We owe all health workers—from doctors to hospital custodial staff—an enormous debt,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. “And as we can clearly see and hear throughout this Surgeon General’s Advisory, they’re telling us what our gratitude needs to look like: real support and systemic change that allows them to continue serving to the best of their abilities.”