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COVID-19 is one of the deadliest viral pandemics in modern history. Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers have been central to efforts to control the pandemic. A nationwide survey of 26,000 public health workers across the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than half had reported symptoms of at least one major mental health condition in the past 18 months

This raises a serious question: What is the true impact of work environment stress on healthcare workers’ mental health during the pandemic?

What could cause healthcare leaders to resign or retire en mass? One potential culprit might be the “burnout factor”. Nurses and other healthcare workers are quickly becoming victims of this syndrome too, which is the extreme result of the all-consuming workload during the outbreak. Unless immediate changes are made to relieve this burden, many healthcare workers are giving up their profession because they are exhausted.

When the COVID pandemic hit, healthcare staffing became a severe problem. And it is still not fully resolved. The strain of the COVID-19 virus has put an enormous amount of pressure on clinics, hospitals, social care, and rehabilitation centers. The lack of healthcare professionals in the needed areas is delaying care for those patients in most need.

These departures have left the state and local health departments scrambling to deal with the surging demand for healthcare provision to support vaccination programs, standard medical procedures, diagnostic exams and to keep emergency rooms open. It’s a vicious cycle: healthcare workers who feel burned out quit, leaving their employers short-handed. The longer they remain understaffed, the more likely remaining nurses and healthcare employees are to fall victim to burnout, creating an even more significant exodus.

Nurses and other healthcare workers, at all levels, feel emotionally and physically exhausted, with some reporting increased anxiety, inability to sleep well, and, as mentioned, even thoughts of quitting their jobs. In addition, many suffer from burnout syndrome, a set of depression-like symptoms that causes the individual to feel apathetic and fatigued.

An ongoing investigation by The Associated Press and KHN shows that at least 181 local and national healthcare leaders in 38 states resigned, retired, or were fired in the first few months of the pandemic. According to experts, this marked a milestone in U.S. history as the biggest exodus of healthcare leaders ever known. While many left, many stayed to help.

But since then, there’s little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to take its toll on healthcare workers across America.

A recent study to establish the mental health impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers in the U.S.A., showed that 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.

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Nurses and health care workers are the backbone of America’s health care system. During the pandemic, demand for their skills was huge because of COVID’s rapid spread and the lack of treatment and vaccine availability. As a result, Healthcare systems were quickly overwhelmed by patients flocking to hospitals and clinics; doctors, nurses and other health care workers struggled to keep up with patient volume.

There have been several studies on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare workers over the past 18-months. And the results make sobering reading.

A study into the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial public health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States showed that PTSD symptoms among nurses and other healthcare workers were 10%–20% higher than that previously reported. The same study also stated that nearly 20% of respondents said that their employer did not allow them to take time off. This led to increased pressure on their mental health. Other figures reveal that 39% of healthcare workers and 45% of nurses did not feel like they had adequate emotional support. Study after study confirms the vital need to reduce both the emotional and physical burden on this vital workforce.

But with so much responsibility, burnout is very hard to avoid. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent it.

Building systems to support behavioural changes that promote mental health is an integrated approach that requires planning, resources, and leadership commitment. Cultural change is a long-term process with few short-term payoffs and takes time and resources to implement. Yet the benefits of personal and workplace wellbeing in healthcare organizations might be tremendous. Promoting workplace wellness, optimizing the work environment, and supporting individual employees who are dealing with chronic medical conditions can all help. But without a workforce big enough to manage when things get tough, even the best-laid plans will fail.

In short, if a hospital or healthcare system has inadequate staffing to cover employee absence because of holiday or sickness, for example, the workload of remaining staff will increase. This invariably leads to staff experiencing greater fatigue and exhaustion, which can negatively affect their mental health. Finally, the strain on employees becomes too much and they feel they have no choice but to resign.

Today, demand remains high and finding suitable candidates is more of a challenge than ever. A recent survey by Becker’s Hospital Review showed that 66% of nurses surveyed said they felt their pandemic experiences had led them to consider leaving the industry. As healthcare staffing agencies across the United States struggle to keep up with the demand for qualified healthcare professionals, many are turning to IMS People Possible, a global recruitment outsourcing company for help.

IMS People Possible works alongside healthcare staffing and recruitment agencies to help source qualified clinical and social care professionals to fill the growing number of vacancies across America. IMS provides specialist services to help source candidates, format resumes, job postings, credentialing, reference checking, lead generation and VMS support, so agencies have more capacity to recruit employees more quickly. Recruitment agencies gain instant access to a team of experienced professionals without costly overheads, long-term commitment, or the hassle of having to spend time and energy recruiting more team members.

More and more recruitment agencies are realizing the advantages of outsourcing to help them meet the ongoing demand for healthcare workers across the U.S. It’s affordable, scalable, and flexible. From full-cycle recruitment to admin support, no job is too big or too small for IMS People Possible.