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COVID-19's ‘Emotionally and Physically Crushing’ Impact on Staff

HAP's Leadership Series in partnership with 30 state hospital associations explores strategies to support employee mental health 

July 15, 2021

Even before COVID-19, health care organizations faced a growing need to protect their staff from burnout, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health challenges.

As the pandemic continues into 2021, health care leaders must act now to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of their staff, said Nicole Lipkin, PsyD, MBA, and a clinical and business psychologist.

“Now is exactly the prime time for traumatic experiences to start emerging,” Dr. Lipkin said.

On Thursday, Dr. Lipkin discussed the ways organizations can support their staff during the COVID-19 pandemic and create emotionally healthy workplaces. The internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author presented as part of HAP’s ongoing Leadership Series, which tackles the key issues facing the health care community. The series is organized in partnership with 30 other state hospital associations.

COVID-19 has been “emotionally and physically crushing,” Dr. Lipkin said, and it has amplified a growing need to support the emotional health and wellbeing of our health care workforce.

Among the key takeaways from the presentation:

  • Structural barriers:  Concerns about licensing, insurance, and stigma sometimes prevent health care workers from receiving help to address their mental health needs
  • Burnout is an organizational challenge:  More than half of frontline health care workers are reporting burnout symptoms during the pandemic. External and internal factors play into burnout, so organizations need to embed a culture of support to protect their staff
  • The compounding impact of stress:  Daily stressors at work build up over time. Re-establishing expectations to adjust for COVID-19, showing vulnerability and honesty at the leadership level, and peer-to-peer support can help staff feel less isolated

Dr. Lipkin urged leaders to rethink their standard metrics, rewarding staff who improve company culture and who demonstrate outstanding commitment to the emotional wellness of their teams. Small steps—such as providing dedicated time for employees to talk to one another—can make a big difference, she said.

“We’ve got to manage the emotional and physical wellness of the people providing the care, or they’re not going to be able to provide the care,” she said.

HAP is dedicated to supporting Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health care workforce. Earlier this year, HAP released a month-long series with resources for managers, leadership, and staff to promote resiliency across the health care system.

For more information about HAP’s educational programs, contact HAP Education Services or call (717) 561-5270.