Apr. 29, 2021

HARRISBURG—Health care workers and hospital administrators today warned state legislators that COVID-19 has left caregivers with PTSD and other negative impacts on the mental health of the state’s health care workers.  

“Dealing with this pandemic created a multitude of emotions among our health care workers,” said Patricia Stover, RN, MSN, NE-BC, vice-president, patient services/CNO for Doylestown Health. “There was also a great deal of stress along with physical and mental exhaustion.  Feelings of grief, fatigue, anger, fear and hopelessness were all contributors to this stress.” 

The revelations came during a bipartisan hearing of the House Mental Health Caucus chaired by Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks) and attended by more than 20 state legislators. “As we see light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines, we want to see how we can help those who helped us,” Thomas said. “We’re here to see what we can do that is meaningful to our health care workers.”  

“In the past 14 months our health care workers have been faced with elevated levels of anxiety, depression, isolation, PTSD and burnout,” said Jennifer Collins, PsyD, chief well-being officer and clinical psychologist at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. “In September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, a survey from the National Institute of Healthcare Management revealed that 76% of health care workers are now reporting burnout and exhaustion. Factors related to this increase include higher intensity of work, mounting death totals, feelings of inadequacy and the indifferent attitudes many Americans display toward infection control precautions, which is a blatant contrast to the realities of the virus health care workers see every day.”

“In a recent survey from the Larry A. Green Center, seven in 10 primary care clinicians report that mental exhaustion, both personally and in their practice, has reached all-time highs,” said Dr. Ben Miller, chief strategy officer of Well Being Trust, a national foundation dedicated to advancing mental, social and spiritual health. “Four in five of the primary care clinicians surveyed reported receiving weekly calls from both their colleagues and their patients who were actively experiencing a mental health crisis, and two in five clinicians reported seeking support.”

That stress is not expected to be alleviated soon.

“Experts agree that PTSD in health care workers will continue to increase,” said Tarik S. Khan, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association. “These mental health services should be covered for frontline workers. Employers should also offer mental health screenings and offer evidence-based programs that prevent and decrease anxiety and depression. Other efforts should include caregiver response teams to assist caregivers in distress, employer-sponsored wellness initiatives, and increased resiliency resources and programs.”

Health care officials also warned that even after COVID-19 is under control, other health crises will arise that will test how we adapted to this pandemic.

“This will happen again,” warned Robert McNamara, MD FAAEM, professor and chair Department of Emergency Medicine, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.  “We’ve got to get the population more in tune with getting vaccines.”

“If this follows the historic pattern for any kind of disaster, we will have an increased need for mental health care,” said Sharon Curran, chief executive officer, Lenape Valley Foundation.  “But while we’ve had an increase in need, we’ve had a decrease in funding.”  

This has left health care staffers discouraged and nurses considering new career paths.

“We had 18 nurses resign or retire immediately when patients started getting admitted with COVID-19.” Stover said.

“A recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that as many as three in 10 health care professionals are considering leaving the profession, of which half of those are due to burn out,” Khan said. “Burnout among nurses was common before COVID-19; the pandemic has only hastened it for many of them. The virus has caused many nurses to leave their units to pursue another career.”

While Kahn endorsed a more holistic approach to treating mental health issues, having treatments covered by insurance is a challenge.  He also urged for the passage of legislation to require a higher level of nursing staff at Pennsylvania’s hospitals. 

“We will take the testimony we gathered today and share it with our colleagues to create whatever legislation we need to help our health care workers,” Thomas said.

Representative Wendi Thomas
178th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: David Foster
RepThomas.com / Facebook.com/RepThomas