The continuing onslaught of COVID-19 is pushing healthcare organizations to their limits and workers beyond physical exhaustion, inflicting emotional damage on healthcare professionals. Public health experts project that high rates of infection and mortality will continue through the winter, despite the recent rollout of vaccines.

The pandemic is highlighting the absolute indispensability of a dedicated and fearless healthcare workforce, and the need to better ensure the safety and health of workers has become the topic of a national conversation.

To date, The Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety (OQPS) has received more than 2,000 COVID-19 related comments from healthcare workers, their loved ones and other community members during the pandemic. These comments are summarized in a new Sentinel Event Alert 62, Voices from the pandemic: Healthcare workers in the midst of crisis. The document is first in a series of alerts that address healthcare workers’ concerns and provide guidance on how to respond to their crisis, helping prepare them for the often-overwhelming circumstances surrounding caring for patients during a pandemic.

According to the comments made to OQPS, some of the most common concerns healthcare workers have about the pandemic are: 

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of getting sick
  • Fear of bringing the virus home
  • Staff shortages and other issues

To address these concerns, the alert encourages healthcare organizations to:

  1. Foster open and transparent communication to build trust, reduce fears, build morale and sustain an effective workforce. 
  2. Remove barriers to healthcare workers seeking mental health services and develop systems that support institutional, as well as individual, resilience.
  3. Protect workers’ safety using the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Hierarchy of Controls framework.
  4. Develop a flexible workforce; evaluate the work being performed, and determine if it can be performed remotely.
  5. Provide clinicians and others with opportunities to collaborate, lead, and innovate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for much longer than many of us anticipated, and healthcare workers are feeling the physical and emotional strain of longer hours, higher patient-provider ratios and rising patient death tolls,” says Ana Pujols McKee, MD, executive vice president, chief medical officer, and chief diversity and inclusion officer, The Joint Commission. “While vaccinations offer an opportunity to end the pandemic, healthcare organizations have a responsibility to support their workers’ wellbeing for the long term.”

For more resources, The Joint Commission has compiled the Coronavirus Resources portal. The portal contains links to recommendations for staff health and wellbeing, webinar recordings and information on The Joint Commission’s advocacy efforts for healthcare workers during the pandemic.