OAKLAND, Calif. - A recent survey of roughly 5,000 frontline healthcare workers finds that more than two years of dealing with the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing profound negative impacts on workers’ mental health. As the pandemic continues into its third year, the survey raises serious concerns for the workers, their families, their work environments, as well as their willingness to stay in the healthcare field.
The survey, conducted from March – April 2022, found that the negative impact of the pandemic is widespread and affects all healthcare workers, regardless of job title and direct level of involvement with COVID patients. The survey is one of the largest of its kind to focus on the pandemic’s sustained impact on those who work in allied healthcare jobs and provide everything from janitorial, housekeeping, food service, lab work, and administrative support, as well as direct patient care, such as medical assistants, certified nurse assistants, respiratory therapists, social workers, and others. Roughly 80% of the respondents in this survey identified as workers of color.
Overwhelmingly, these healthcare workers report feeling stress (91%), anxiety (83%), exhaustion/burn-out (81%), and being overwhelmed (77%), with impacts on their physical health and their families as well. Those providing administrative and other support such as janitorial and food service registered similar, and in some cases, higher levels of negative feelings and impact on their physical and emotional health as staff who directly provide care for patients.
“Sadly, less than 20% of the healthcare workers who participated in this survey felt they had adequate emotional support,” said Schroeder Stribling, President and CEO of MHA, “These findings underscore the urgent need to invest in accessible, culturally responsive supports and services for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as workers continue to face challenges associated with new subvariants.”
Other findings in the survey include:
- Workers in this survey reported that their most significant work-related stressors were heavy/increased workloads, uncertainty about when things will settle down, and, particularly for Asian, Black, and Latino workers, concern about getting sick themselves.
- Despite these stresses, workers across all job types report they do not have time or space to process the impact while at work (45%) and are unable to take time off when needed to attend to their own physical or emotional health (55%).
- More than half of all workers, regardless of job duties, regularly felt sadness. Almost one-third of all workers regularly felt grief, with administrative support staff reporting feelings of grief at higher levels than those who provide direct patient care.
- While workers reported experiencing negative feelings at very high rates, few workers experienced positive feelings, such as pride (only 8% overall), or hope (less than 18% overall).
- Despite early applause and shows of appreciation from the public for healthcare workers as heroes, by the end of the second year of the pandemic, 70% of front-line workers felt unappreciated regardless of racial group, job type, or tenure in healthcare.
- More than half of all workers (52%) questioned their career path in the previous three months, while up to 60% of workers of color have considered leaving healthcare as their profession.
“In addition to concern for workers and their families, this survey clearly tells us that unless we invest in support for all workers involved in delivering healthcare, we will exacerbate the challenges of retaining a qualified and diverse workforce in a field that has long faced a shortage of healthcare workers,” said Rebecca Hanson, Executive Director of The Education Fund.
The full report can be found here.
With generous support from the James Irvine Foundation, the survey was commissioned by The Education Fund and administered by Mental Health America (MHA), in partnership with the Mental Health Strategic Impact Initiative (S2i). It augments findings of previous surveys by MHA and others in which most respondents were predominantly degreed medical professionals, such as physicians and nurses.
About Mental Health America
Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. MHA’s work is driven by its commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal. Learn more at MHAnational.org.
About The Education Fund
The SEIU-UHW & Joint Employer Education Fund is a multi-employer labor-management partnership serving 105,000 SEIU healthcare workers across 16 employers and five states to advance their careers through innovative education and training solutions.
About The Mental Health Strategic Impact Initiative
S2i is a national organization catalyzing change to ensure that all people with mental health conditions can live the fullest possible lives, and that public and private resources are equitably devoted to that end. It centers its work on the authentic leadership of people with lived experience and racial equity.