How healthcare workers have been impacted mentally throughout the pandemic

Anne Marie Benedicto, Head of the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss mental health in the healthcare space.

Video Transcript

- Our next guest has the antidote for burnout, and that's something that a lot of Americans are facing now. And she highlights the importance of protecting our health care workers, mental health. We're joined now by Anne Marie Benedicto, head of the Joint Commission center for transforming health care.

Anne Marie, thanks so much for joining us. Now you mentioned safety culture as an antidote for burnout. What is it, and how can it be used?

ANNE MARIE BENEDICTO: A safety culture is-- I think you know health care has a lot of jargon, and safety culture definitely means something in health care. It's not part of what I talk to with my family for instance. Safety culture is how an organization is set up to achieve zero harm. It is built on trust and engaging employees, and the hallmark of a safety culture is that everyone from the C-suite to front line workers speak up when they see something that could go wrong or is going wrong, and they speak out without fear of retribution and with confidence that their feedback will be valued taken seriously and acted upon.

- Now how have health care workers been struggling or impacted mentally throughout this pandemic. We've seen a couple of videos. We've seen the anecdotes, but what has the impact really been?

ANNE MARIE BENEDICTO: I think that has been very significant mainly because it is not a new problem. Health care workers were experiencing very, very high levels of burnout before the pandemic. There was a-- there was a physician survey done a few months ago that showed that 79% of physicians say that they're burnout started before the pandemic, and that has been echoed by nursing service as well. So you have health care workers who come in with high rates of burnout, and then you throw a pandemic on top of that. And you can see that that should have significant effects on both their mental and physical health.

- And how have patients been impacted by the fact that so many health care workers are saying that they are just flat out burned out?

ANNE MARIE BENEDICTO: I think in a couple of ways. I think it is undeniable that health care workers have performed admirably during the pandemic. In fact, they have been on the sharp end of that stick. However, people who are burned out are more prone to mistakes, and some of those mistakes will hurt themselves, others, or their patients.

In addition, more and more health care workers are leaving the profession, which means that there are shortages of staff, which makes a bad situation even more acute. And it also means that we are losing experience that would be very helpful for caring for patients, also for fixing systems that are broken. We're losing all that experience.

- What is-- now that we are turning this corner in the pandemic, what is the best way to kind of return to normal? How do we best handle that approach? I think a year ago, so many folks are talking about treating it as if it was going to be a light switch, and not just for health care workers but truly for all of us in terms of returning back to the office and how we would interact with our friends and family again. It doesn't seem like the light switch approach. We've now past the point where that's even feasible, so how should we approach it?

ANNE MARIE BENEDICTO: I would like us to approach the pandemic and what that's cost and also the slow emergence from the danger of the pandemic with more and more people getting vaccinated as well as the learning we've had as health care workers as an industry and how to treat patients with COVID-19, I would like us to see that as a wake up call, that in a lot of ways health care was already dangerous before the pandemic. You know, there's a lot of harm out there for patients. So hundreds and thousands of patients fall every year, and about 30% to 35% of those get injured after they fall.

750,000 patients are diagnosed with sepsis and about a third of those died from sepsis. So we were already having health care industry that had weaknesses in its systems, and definitely the pandemic has made the fallout from those weak systems very apparent. I think this is the time for us to invest in our staff in, our health care workers, and give back to the people who have given us so much.

And if you look at the causes of burnout and you read the surveys and you ask people what contributes to their burnout, they will say that they aren't treated very well, lack of respect, that they're not part of decision-making and they want to be, particularly with nurses. But also people talk about how hard it is to work and all the interruptions and paperwork that gets in the way of doing a good job. In addition to giving health care workers and health care organizations investing in services for mental health for their workers and also making it apparent that there is no stigma attached to that, that you should be using these services that were created for you, you should also be looking at all the reasons why it is hard to be a health care worker.

Is there a problem with electronic health record? Let's go fix that. What gets in the way of doing great work, and how do we create an environment where it is easy to come to work, and you don't have to be a hero to do your work every day.

- Anne Marie Benedicto, head of the Joint Commission Center for transforming health care. Thank you so much for joining us for this incredibly important conversation during mental health awareness.

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