News » SMHS Faculty Pen Paper on Emotional Toll of the COVID-19 Pandemic

SMHS Faculty Pen Paper on Emotional Toll of the COVID-19 Pandemic

When it comes to protecting health care workers, it’s not just personal protective equipment that’s needed but also emotional protections, according to an editorial co-authored by faculty members at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) and published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The editorial, written by Breanne Jacobs, MD, MA ’04, clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at SMHS; Rita Manfredi, MD, associate clinical professor of emergency medicine at SMHS; and Wendy Dean, MD, president of Moral Injury of Healthcare, looks at the emotional toll the COVID-19 pandemic is having on health care workers, exacerbating problems that existed even before the pandemic struck. 

“Long before COVID-19, physicians were considering a departure from the workforce at alarming rates,” the authors note. “Almost half of our colleagues felt burned out last year. Large corporate medical groups bought small, physician-run practices and then budgeted to the bone so that staffing, space, and supplies became tighter and tighter. We expressed our concerns for patient safety and increasing physician exhaustion within these new models, but by and large, the new paradigm was established, and physicians continued to persevere under pressure.”

They added that health care professionals who are hyper focused on their patients’ care may not process what is happening until they have downtime, “and that is where the danger is.”

However, they write, the pandemic also has provided the opportunity to “pivot our culture and our expectations.” Hospitals must create plans for supporting their workforce going forward, according to the paper, including offering ongoing psychological crisis response, expanded employee assistance programs, and broadened support programs in which teams or individuals can come together to process their experiences differently.

“A commitment is needed from hospitals and organizations to provide staffing levels that allow lighter schedules in the coming months, giving time to process this grief, without consequent pay cuts,” the authors write. “We implore leadership to pay attention and listen to what frontline workers say they need.”

To read the editorial, “Moral Injury: The Invisible Epidemic in COVID Health Care Workers,” published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, please visit