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Mental Well-Being for Health Care Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

04/23/2020

By Lisa DiBlasi Moorehead, EdD, MSN, RN, CENP, associate nurse executive, Accreditation and Certification Operations, Elizabeth Even, BSN, MSN, RN, CEN, associate director, Clinical Standards Interpretation, and Kathryn D. Petrovic, MSN, RN-BC, director, Department of Standards and Survey Methods

Health care workers are now facing unprecedented circumstances on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. First, we’d like to thank each and every frontline employee for their efforts to help those affected by the novel coronavirus. We could not overcome this without them. 

As shifts grow longer due to potential shortages of staff and more people require hospitalization, many staff will experience symptoms of burnout. Because our health care workers have become the backbone of the effort against COVID-19, it’s important for health care leaders to do what they can to create a work environment that supports the mental well-being of their staff. 

Leaders are not immune from being overwhelmed during this time. However, hopefully some of the following tips for improving communication and maintaining balance in the work lives of health care workers can help them get ahead of more serious, longer-lasting mental health concerns.  

Communication

  • Keep staff abreast of important information, especially when directives change. Setting up a system by which leaders communicate their needs and directions to staff can help eliminate confusion and uncertainty about policies and procedures. 
  •  Establish a mechanism where staff are able to share their concerns and feel heard. Questions should be promptly reviewed and addressed by leadership. 
  • Maintain honesty, empathy and compassion when communicating with staff. VitalTalk, a health care nonprofit dedicated to developing clinicians’ communications skills, developed this guide for speaking to staff and patients about COVID-19. While clinicians will likely have to make difficult decisions during this time, leaders can make the environment more positive for everyone by practicing empathy and understanding. 
  • Incorporate ongoing ways to share positive or encouraging news with staff. Some ideas include commending staff members, sharing uplifting patient care stories or announcing donations from local stores or restaurants. 

Maintaining Balance

  • Leadership should closely monitor the time that health care team members are spending in direct patient care and split this time fairly among staff where possible. 
  • Attempt to limit the overall volume of emails, phone calls and alerts to limit information burden. 
  • Respect staff time off, allowing them to disconnect and recharge at home. 

The American Holistic Nurses Association has also provided tips for stress management that may prove helpful for some health care workers off the clock. 

Health care workers are in for a long fight, and the ramifications of burnout and poor mental health may not be apparent at first. As the pandemic continues to impact our communities, ensuring health care workers have systems in place at work now that support their mental health is imperative to making sure they have the strength to keep helping patients. 

Our health care system can and will get through these trying times. However, leadership must ensure health care workers have support to do so. 


Lisa DiBlasi Moorehead, EdD, MSN, RN, CENP, is the associate nurse executive in the Division of Accreditation and Certification Operations at The Joint Commission. In this role, she focuses on building and strengthening external customer and stakeholder relationships, primarily in the hospital and health system market.


Liz Even, BSN, MSN, RN, CEN, currently serves as the associate director of Clinical Standards Interpretation in the Division of Healthcare Improvement at The Joint Commission. In this role, she collaborates with the Standards Interpretation Group by interpreting the intent of standards, providing guidance to organizations and surveyors, and supporting the accreditation process. 


Kathryn D. Petrovic, MSN, RN-BC, is the director of the Department of Standards and Survey Methods. In this role, she oversees the development and revision of the standards for all accreditation programs. She is also responsible for establishing the survey process used to assess compliance with standards and requirements.