Post-COVID Stress And Burnout Among Health Care Workers: How Does it Put Patients at Risk?


doctor experiences post-COVID stressDuring the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout was at an all-time high among health care professionals. This was abundantly clear in the survey “Coping with COVID,” which revealed that 61 percent of health care workers feared transmission. Alarmingly, over one in three of respondents also claimed to suffer anxiety or depression, while 43 percent noted an excessive workload. This wave of post-COVID stress is sure to have real implications on the quality of care delivered.

Still, the work environment within medical facilities looks a bit different these days than it did one year ago. Equipment shortages are less common at this point, and, thankfully, we know a lot more about how COVID can be treated, and, more importantly, avoided altogether. As a result, some health care workers are enjoying a reprieve from the stress that dominated their lives for well over a year. Others, however, continue to feel burned out. What is sparking these feelings — and how do they influence DC medical malpractice cases? We answer these important questions below:

Health Care Pandemic Stress: Where We Were And How Far We’ve Come

It’s easy to see why burnout was such a problem in the health care sector throughout 2020: as patients filled hospital beds and used up dwindling resources, employees at all levels were forced to do more with less. Meanwhile, illness spread quickly among these professionals, leading to staffing shortages.

Stressed by the long hours and emotional burden of the pandemic, many doctors, nurses, and other workers found themselves dealing with major mental health concerns, and often, turning to alcohol, drugs, and other forms of self-medication to cope.

With the distribution of the vaccine and the ensuing reductions in case rates, health care workers have finally been able to breathe a bit easier. Long hours remain common as the Delta variant prompts spikes in some regions, but many professionals feel confident that we can round the corner on the pandemic if people get vaccinated and continue to use the right mitigation tactics.

Burnout Is Still a Huge Problem

While life for many people appears to be returning to something close to normal, this is unfortunately not the case among health care workers. Yes, they are less anxious and less overwhelmed than they were during the worst of the pandemic, but mental health concerns remain common and post-COVID stress is still a concern.

In 2021, the KFF/Washington Post Frontline Health Care Workers Survey delved into the specifics of how the later stages of the pandemic have impacted health care workers. The majority of respondents claimed that COVID-related stress damaged their mental health. More than half also cited sleep difficulties associated with the pandemic. Other highlighted problems include headaches, stomachaches, and increased alcohol use.

Why Do Health Care Workers Feel So Stressed?

A variety of issues conspire to make medical professionals feel overworked and underappreciated in 2021. A few top areas of concern include:

  • Ongoing staffing shortages. The pandemic drove many longtime workers from the field, leaving the rest dealing with major staffing shortages. As such, long hours and excessive responsibilities remain common even when COVID cases and hospitalization rates are reasonably low.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. The early days of the pandemic left their mark on frontline health workers. Many witnessed truly horrific sights as they struggled to keep up with an influx of deathly ill patients. They also feared getting sick themselves, particularly when they often lacked access to personal protective equipment (PPE). A recently published quantitative analysis of survey data from the Yale School of Public Health reveals that one in four health care workers have recently shown probable signs of PTSD.
  • Long-term damage from harmful coping mechanisms. Alcohol and drug use spiked during the beginning of the pandemic, but many stressed professionals have since struggled to kick the dependencies they developed over a year ago. This is an ongoing source of stress in a field that already sees high levels of drug abuse.
  • Lack of public appreciation. When the pandemic began, health care workers were anxious, but also, gratified by the public displays of support they encountered on a regular basis. Since then, however, many people have stopped praising the heroic efforts of these employees. While few expect medical professionals expect to receive validation indefinitely, they also struggle with seeing a blatant disregard for the protective measures they’ve begged the public to adopt. From mask drama to the anti-vax movement, many employees feel discouraged when they witness utter disregard for heavily-researched mitigation efforts — particularly when this leads to COVID spikes, and ultimately, greater hospitalizations that place health care workers at risk.

How Does Stress Among Health Care Workers Impact Patients?

Work in the health care sector is notoriously demanding under the best of circumstances. When a pandemic enters the picture, however, professionals can address the day-to-day struggles of their jobs far better when they are of sound mental and physical health. The opposite is increasingly the case, however, leaving workers more likely to make mistakes that they would easily avoid under different circumstances.

According to a report from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), a style of working known as “pandemic nursing” has placed far too many patients at risk. Medication safety, in particular, is a concern, as exhausted nurses are more likely to make errors that lead to overdoses or dangerous side effects. The potential for increased errors has also sparked concern in areas such as anesthesia and even surgery.

Take Action With a DC Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you’ve observed negligence in a health care facility and believe this is responsible for your current suffering, it’s important to speak up. Regardless of the role played by post-COVID stress, you may have a legitimate claim. The medical malpractice attorneys at Regan Zambri Long PLLC can provide the support you need as you pursue damages. Contact us today to learn more about our services — and to schedule a free case evaluation.