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When the SARS-Cov2 virus hit the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area in Spring 2020, hospitals and hospital workers were hit hard with a new unknown pathogen that either killed people or made them very ill. There were large numbers of severely ill patients that strained resources. Hospital workers had extraordinary stress with multiple additional patients, the need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) in short supply, and faced with a pathogen that had no treatments beyond care and support initially.
We surveyed our hospital workers in late Spring 2020 to identify the main stressors and find out what measures were helpful. An online anonymous survey included questionnaires about sleep, mood, outside stressors, helpful measures, and how they coped generally. All levels of hospital workers were surveyed. Resources were provided to all respondents.
Over 240 individuals responded to the survey; most respondents were women (76%). ‘Workplace stressors’ topped the chart for 98 of our respondents. The worst workplace stressor that was cited was ‘irritable workforce,’ but ‘lack of ‘protocols’ and ‘shortage of PPE’ were also cited as stressors. ‘Other’ (not described) and ‘taking care of an ill relative’ were rated highly. Those who had ‘symptoms everyday:’ Anhedonia (loss of pleasure or interest), 13%; feeling down and hopeless, 12%; sleep disturbance, 41%; low energy, feeling tired, 29%; appetite disturbance, 26%; poor concentration and attention, 15%. Respondents told us what resources they used and what was most helpful; exercise was most frequently cited as helpful.
Lessons Learned and Discussion
Various resources for formal and informal mental health support were provided to all respondents at the time of survey. Our hospital mounted its own response with support services, as did our medical school and university. A "warm line" was available through the Department of Psychiatry from late March 2020; tip sheets and online groups were widely circulated; State Department of Health provided resources. There were formal peer support sessions and workers helped each other. Medical students provided child care, shopping, and transport. We learned that extra support for workers and more frequent rest and recharge time are important. A weekly "town hall" was instituted and a weekly update about the hospital and support in healthy activities are widely circulated to employees. Those with active PTSD (some were very disturbed by the number of deceased patients) were referred to professional providers. Hospitals need to be ready to deal with epidemics and pandemics more effectively in order to mitigate stress and support workers. Being prepared, not just with equipment, but with protocols in how to proceed should another pandemic come. We learned that listening to workers is important. Workers also need to know how valued they are.
Department of Psychiatry, New Jersey Medical School
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