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7/3/2020 4:00 AM

Supporting the Emotional Well-being of Health Care Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Chris PowerChris Power, CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Patient Safety and Risk Management. Please find the details and abstract below.

Authors: Albert W. Wu, Peter Buckle, Elliott R. Haut, Tomasso Bellandi, Shunzo Koizumi, Alpana Mair, John Øvretveit, Chris Power, Hugo Sax, Eric J. Thomas, David Newman-Toker, Charles VincentFirst

Published June 17, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is emerging as the defining health crisis of our generation. Health care organizations were already a high-risk environment for workers, who are exposed on a daily basis to the suffering of their patients, tragedy, and the potential for failure. Now, health care staff of all kinds are straining to meet the demands of caring for patients with the novel coronavirus. Caring for patients with COVID-19 places them at personal risk for infection, and also poses a threat to their emotional well-being.

In the short term, caring for patients during the pandemic provokes fear, anxiety, and worry for workers and their loved ones. Workers may develop anger and frustration about working in suboptimal conditions, and anguish over difficult decisions. They may be thrown off balance by new and changing work requirements and routines. They may re-deployed away from their home units, and thus deprived of their usual network of social support. Their workplace may change in front of them, as when general wards are converted to biocontainment units for COVID-19 patients. All of these stresses can cause self-doubt and fears about competence. And it is difficult to care for severely ill and dying patients, and to witness those separated from their loved ones by infection control measures.

If workers are not provided with sufficient emotional support, the distress can be disabling. It may render them less able to work to their full ability. This in turn can threaten the integrity of the health care workforce to deliver the volumes of care required by the pandemic. In the longer term individual workers are at risk for accelerated burnout, and for mental health problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

We consulted with health care experts on our international editorial board. We asked them to provide advice for health care leaders and managers and frontline clinicians for meeting the emotional needs of health care workers and supporting one another.

Please read the full article on the Journal of Patient Safety and Risk Management.