An Urgent Public Health Priority
Emphasized by the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare providers in the United States have been overwhelmed with extreme workloads and extraordinarily long shift hours for far too long. This extreme stress has lead to increased levels of burnout, and mental health conditions among healthcare professionals which not only negatively affects patient care, but also leads to depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide amongst healthcare providers.
More often than not, these providers suffer in silence due to stigmas surrounding mental illness in the healthcare field, and inadequate policies surrounding provider well-being. An article published by Frontiers.org calls on healthcare organizations to step up by making evidence-based changes to prioritize the well-being and overall health of providers, and in turn, promote their ability to provide quality care as well as help to close the physician shortage gap.
The nation needs reimagined healthcare systems that are driven by the needs of providers and patients and increase awareness surrounding mental health, not only during times of crisis or mental health month, but every day.
What Your Healthcare Organization Can Do
From the beginning of traditional training, healthcare providers are taught to associate their own struggles and mental health issues as a sign of weakness. They learn that they must be self-sufficient, mentally tough, and hide any doubts or insecurities they may have.
Many providers also fear judgment from their peers, or even having their medical license withdrawn if they speak up about living with a mental health problem or if they seek help, leading to an increased likelihood of worsening symptoms. It’s important to note that these issues are not always diagnosable mental health disorders, which emphasizes the importance of early intervention.
To combat the stigma surrounding provider mental health, health care systems must work to create an “epidemic of empathy” by establishing a compassionate culture within their own facilities and staffing mixes by providing information, resources, and encouraging psychosocial & peer support.
First and foremost, before your healthcare organization can start considering the solutions recommended below, you must evaluate whether your facility is sufficiently staffed to allow you the bandwidth to provide such support. The good news is, not all resources need to be on the shoulders of your facility to provide by itself.
Locum tenens providers serve to take over some of your current staff’s burdensome workloads first, so that as you consider making changes to your healthcare organization’s culture and policies, yourself and your current providers can rest easy.
Information and Resources
It’s up to healthcare leaders and decision makers within your organization to take on the responsibility to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and fostering an open and collaborative work environment instead of one that promotes competition. Making information and resources, such as access to care where providers can find treatment, readily available to your providers helps the process of normalizing discussions about mental health.
One simple step your organization can take is to have managers and supervisors available to staff for honest, and straightforward conversations regarding mental health, and moral dilemmas they may face on the job. These discussions not only work to destigmatize mental health issues, but serve to redirect providers to additional resources, such as the suicide prevention lifeline, which your organization can make readily available such as in-person or computer assisted courses on self-care, resilience, mindfulness, and stress management.
The World Health Organization offers a proven and highly effective stress management intervention called Self Help Plus (SH+). The program works to alleviate elevated psychological distress and burnout in emergency and high-stress situations such as healthcare worker response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Psychosocial and Peer Support
Fostering an environment of support from peers and supervisors during challenging times greatly helps to protect the mental health of healthcare workers.
Consider forming a psycho-social support team that your healthcare staff can reach out to during times of crisis, challenging work conditions, or heavy work loads.
Peer-to-peer support groups and buddy teams where healthcare workers can debrief and reflect on their experiences have also been shown to reduce the effects of burnout by helping clinicians to manage their stressful encounters together.
One effective form of cultivating peer-to-peer support is forming reflective practice groups or “reflective rounds” where practitioners have the opportunity to come together to practice mutual support, learning, and practice development.
Your permanent providers are not the only ones who may struggle with mental health, so such support groups and resources should be made known not only to your permanent staff, but also to any locum providers your organization brings on. Be sure to establish a welcoming onboarding process for your locum providers and include them into all of the resources your facility offers. Due to their wide range of experiences, your locum providers can bring valuable perspectives to their permanently employed peers.
Destigmatization of issues surrounding mental health, however, can only go so far in alleviating healthcare providers’ struggles. There are also systematic changes that are recommended in any healthcare organization’s policies to further promote mental health for providers; primarily, in putting your workers’ needs first.
There are plenty of policy changes that can be implemented in your facility to prioritize healthcare professionals’ mental health, but first and foremost, your providers should also be involved in decision making processes and policy development.
Exercising a concept called co-production, where both healthcare providers and patients participate in evaluations of mental health services provides valuable insights on an organizational level while involving workers in decision making. Giving your staff the opportunity to participate in the process of development, implementation, testing, and evaluation of policies aiming to improve staffs’ mental health and well-being increases job satisfaction in the long run while improving quality of care, and work conditions simultaneously.
Including locum tenens providers into the co-production model also brings a fresh set of eyes to your facility. Their wide range of experience working in different settings can offer valuable insight about what your organization is doing well, and what could use improvement.
One policy to consider in collaboration with your staff could be increasing or even mandating mental health breaks where providers can take a walk, practice mindfulness, and have access to quiet rooms to take a breath between meetings.
Debrief with your staff and pay special attention to task mixes, kinds of tasks, and responsibilities, keeping in mind the weight and intensity of these tasks to ensure adequate work patterns and working conditions. It is vital to also factor in time for sick leave, parental leave, and your providers’ own medical appointments, as well as time to spend with their family members, and it never hurts to implement caps on the length of shift hours.
So how will you keep your facility running smoothly if you make all of these allowances for breaks, shift hour caps, and time off? Perhaps one of the most important elements of keeping your providers happy while keeping up workflow is ensuring your healthcare facility is adequately staffed.
Utilizing locum tenens is a great solution to keeping your facility sufficiently staffed year-round. Locum providers take the stress off of your existing permanent staff by taking over some of the burdensome workloads, giving permanently employed staff time to take those breaks and rejuvenate themselves.
That’s Where Barton Comes In
Whether you need immediate coverage, long-term support, short-term vacation coverage, or anything in between, the locum tenens staffing experts at Barton Associates are here to help. Get started today by filling out our client contact form!