Health care workers in the U.S. have been facing the COVID-19 pandemic for more than three months now. Stressors such as insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), fears of infection, feelings of isolation from family, and harassment from the community for enforcing strict infection prevention measures are creating strains on health care workers, which can interfere with providing adequate patient care during a crisis.
To help health care organizations support their staff, The Joint Commission has issued a new Quick Safety titled “Promoting psychosocial well-being of health care staff during crisis.” The advisory shares information on how health care organizations and staff can remove barriers to seeking mental health care. It also provides safety actions to consider, as well as strategies for health care workers to support themselves and their staff.
Health care staff must not encounter job-related barriers to receiving mental health care. In some organizations, it is common practice to ask about mental health history during the licensing or credentialing process. As a result, clinicians may not seek care out of fear of adverse effects to their career.
Organizations should know that The Joint Commission does not require them to ask about a clinician’s history of mental health conditions or treatment and supports limiting inquiries to conditions that currently impair the clinician’s ability to perform their job. The Joint Commission hopes this statement helps health care workers feel more comfortable seeking care.
Additionally, the Quick Safety recommends the following strategies to support health care staff mental health.
Strategies to support oneself include:
- Practice self-care and engage in healthy coping strategies.
- Take microbreaks from patient care.
- Practice good sleeping habits.
- Partner with colleagues to cross-monitor each other’s well-being.
- Stay connected with friends and family.
- Check in with yourself.
- Strive for resilience post-crisis recovery.
Strategies for managers and leaders to support staff include:
- Communicate regularly.
- Model behaviors that promote self-monitoring.
- Encourage sharing of concerns to build transparency and mutual trust.
- Demonstrate the value of staff.
- Orient staff to psychosocial resources and offer the basics on psychosocial first aid.
- Proactively monitor mental well-being and provide active outreach.
- Encourage peer support.
- Share positive feedback.
- Adapt staffing, such as rotating staff between higher- and lower-stress functions, where possible.
- Strive for resilience in post-crisis recovery.
“The mental, emotional and physical strain health care workers are experiencing during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 cannot be understated. The Quick Safety advisory serves to support individual health care workers and organizations alike by providing recommendations for protective strategies and ways in which to build individual and institutional resilience during crisis. It is critical that we ensure health care workers have access to psychosocial resources and support now and in the future,” says Erin Lawler, MS, CPPS, human factors engineer, The Joint Commission.
Doctors and nurses are often the first members of a health care team that come to mind when picturing front-line workers. Leaders must remember that all key staff that keep their facilities running, including environmental and food service workers, imaging techs, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, security personnel, social workers, and chaplains, among others, may be dealing with mental health conditions aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The advisory also compiles mental health resources from the American Medical Association, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and more.
For more information and to read the latest Quick Safety, visit The Joint Commission website. The advisory may be reproduced if credited to The Joint Commission.