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The hidden toll: The aftermath of understaffing and burnout post-COVID-19


It’s important for employers and patients to understand the consequences to healthcare workers.

match being lit | © Ralph - stock.adobe.com

© Ralph - stock.adobe.com

In the period following the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers were celebrated as frontline heroes.

This COVID-19 era has brought numerous challenges for healthcare professionals – staffing shortages, sleep deprivation, and burnout; the list goes on – that have profound negative consequences for patients. The consequences to healthcare workers are still being measured and cataloged. But there are a few we know, and it’s important for employers and patients to understand them.

Burnout is growing

With over half of healthcare workers disclosing that they have felt some form of burnout, there’s rising concern about workload. Exhaustion, irregular hours, and stressful work environments affect healthcare providers’ mental and physical health. These stressors are compounded in an industry focused on critical patient safety and health decisions. The impact of burnout can lead to mistakes that put patients at risk.

According to Tebra’s recent report, medical professionals find it difficult to concentrate because of burnout. There are few professions where concentration is required. Patients must know that a burned-out healthcare professional cannot provide top-level care.

Understaffing leads to growing pressure

Retaining and training a high-skilled workforce is a constant challenge for the healthcare industry. Now this pre-existing issue is crumbling under the weight of an unsustainable system. Understaffing puts extra pressure on those who remain in the industry and will impact patient care standards as an already-overburdened workforce struggles to meet demand.

The growing shortages of states that need medical professionals, such as California and Texas, have led to an increase in depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation in the remaining staff.

Understaffing has led to nursing strikes, where organizations that do not fairly hire, compensate, respect, or create sustainable working conditions for their nursing staff delay and even completely stop quality patient care. The vicious cycle of understaffing further burns out the workers who are left, leading to strikes, turnover, and the loss of regular professionals.

An impending healthcare crisis

The cracks in the healthcare system exposed by the last pandemic have not been fully addressed – leaving vulnerabilities for the next crisis. One study shows that 73% of workers feel underpaid, and 59% feel unappreciated. As those who respond to surveys must have time to do so, often, these numbers can be higher.

Many healthcare workers feel that they aren’t adequately compensated. COVID-19 has been challenging, and on industry and structural level, little has been done to address the current circumstances. Long working hours and poor conditions persist.

Relying on minute pay increases and hiring temp employees is not enough to fix the outcry of healthcare workers. They call for flexible scheduling, breaks, vacations, and rest opportunities. Better working conditions, sufficient staffing, and fair compensation can help create a more sustainable healthcare industry that promises to attract and retain top talent and lead to better patient care.

It is past time to address the challenges of healthcare professionals and create an equitable and just working environment so that patients can receive care in due time.

Sustainable conditions are overdue

It is time for the conditions of American healthcare workers to be addressed and improved. Many have taken the time to study and become part of the industry to help vulnerable patients who struggle with receiving quality care.

As a critical system, healthcare must face the risks to be more competitive to attract new talent. Increasing staffing quotas, enhancing employee appreciation, introducing flexible scheduling, increasing or diversifying compensation, offering better packages, and not just allowing but actively encouraging regular breaks and rest can all go toward improving the healthcare industry.

The failure to make timely changes will likely result in a significant exodus from the industry, which will lead to an even greater crisis in the quality of patient care, the control of disease and infection, and the overall quality of life we experience as a country.

Jesse Noyes is Vice President of Organic Marketing at Tebra, a leader in practice automation solutions for independent healthcare practices. In 2021, Kareo and PatientPop merged to form Tebra, and Jesse joined the team the November of the following year.

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