August 25, 2021
American nurses have been on the front line of the COIVD-19 pandemic for nearly 18 months. Now, a fourth wave has again filled hospitals across the United States as nurses grapple with burnout caused by the physical and emotional tolls of caring for COVID-19 patients. Many have left, causing staffing shortages.
Experts say that nurses need someone to care for them to help them stay on the job. That's what a new mental health program will strive to do at a Philadelphia-area health system.
Nurses at Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic facilities will have access to a mental health program designed to address the unique stressors they face and help combat burnout. It initially will offer evidence-based tools and care coordination to more than 1,800 front-line health care workers at Nazareth Hospital, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center – with the possibility of future expansion to other locations.
The program, the result of a partnership with Independence Blue Cross Foundation and the Philadelphia software company NeuroFlow, is similar to programs that have been successfully used at other health systems and within the U.S. military. And it comes at a time when many health care providers are feeling exasperated.
According to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 3 in 10 health care workers have considered leaving the profession, and 6 in 10 say that the pandemic has burned them out. Another survey found that about 25% of health care workers are showing signs of post traumatic stress disorder and and 43% have a "probable alcohol disorder."
Nurses in particular are feeling under-appreciated as they work marathon shifts while also having to self-isolate at home to keep their families safe from infection. They have reported feeling like no one cares about the conditions they are facing.
"Most will remember the devastating physical toll the pandemic took on our population, but it has also been an awakening for mental health and the daily challenges we all face with stress and anxiety," said Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic President and CEO Jim Woodward.
"Our health care workers need the same kind of access to care as our patients do. This collaboration with the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and NeuroFlow gives our staff another pillar of support and a better way to quantify when workloads are getting too strained."
Studies have consistently shown that burnout and fatigue among nurses is dangerous to patients. Serious medical mistakes, including chart errors and the administration of incorrect doses, are more likely under these conditions.
The burnout also has led to staffing shortages across the country, as the nurse turnover rates increase. NSI Nursing Solutions, a recruitment agency for registered nurses, reported that the turnover rate among registered nurses in U.S. hospitals climbed to 18.7% last year.
Another survey of nurses found that 43% of respondents were considering quitting. All data appears to point to a worsening shortage of nurses.
Nurses enrolled in the program at Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic will be able to use NeuroFlow technology to measure their moods and sleep patterns as well as do some journaling. Educational resources and evidence-based coping strategies will be available and tailored to their personal needs.
A clinical care team also will be remotely monitoring all participants and population health trends to prevent any major mental health events."Being healthy means taking care of ourselves physically and mentally," said Stephen P. Fera, executive vice president of public affairs at Independence Blue Cross. "This initiative supports those who dedicate themselves day in and day out to helping others, and who have been true heroes during the past year and a half."
A special launch event was held Wednesday at Mercy Fitzgerald. It was attended by leadership from all three organizations and State Rep. Michael Zabel and Delaware County Council Vice Chair Dr. Monica Taylor.
"Whether you're looking for a little maintenance or formal clinical care, behavioral health is not one size fits all," said NeuroFlow Chief Executive Officer Chris Molaro. "Technology increases access for everyone and is designed to augment existing resources and clinical teams."