Workforce Trauma, Shortages, and Retention Remain Interprofessional Challengesby Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 01/10/22
One year ago, I wrote how the pandemic, and other societal narratives prompted a new dimension of collective occupational trauma; an already worn workforce was forced to wrestle with constant and intense levels of suffering. As we enter 2022, and year 3 of COVID’s wrath, this trauma remains unrelenting. Pervasive burnout, retention issues, and staff shortages are ravaging disciplines and settings, cumulative costs into the billions. These realities put quality patient care at severe risk.
Global data emphasizes the impact of chronic and recurrent COVID-waves for front-line physicians and nurses; no doubt these disciplines have endured, and continue to take a powerful hit; >80% ready to leave the industry. Concern exists whether there will be enough practitioners to render care. However, what of other disciplines? Disregard for the health, mental health, and well-being of all members of the workforce is a grave concern.
The Entire Workforce Mandates Attention
The health and behavioral health workforce is vast and comprises many professional disciplines: behavioral health professionals (behavioral analysts, counselors, social workers, psychologists), case managers, community health workers, medical assistants, nutritionists, pharmacists, phlebotomists, public health workers, rehabilitation professionals, and respiratory therapists, etc. Valued personnel are also employed by other sectors (e.g., schools, businesses), such as teachers, occupational health, and school nurses, to name a few. Each of these groups have suffered more than their share of deaths, illness, and long-haul syndrome disability; the mental and emotional toll of their work yielding intense emotional trauma across:
Despite these graphic realities, too many personnel are excluded from industry/employer recognition for their contributions to the pandemic, whether awards or merit raises. Even media focus on these individuals is limited. A recent article discussing, hazard pay, focused on nurses and doctors alone; why are others not deserving? A vicious cycle unfolds where stressed, underappreciated team members experience a higher incidence of negative mood, emotional exhaustion, and thus, increased medical errors. More than 250,000 medical errors and 100,000 deaths annually were attributed to workforce frustration pre-pandemic; poor team member communication and fragmented care ensued with a ripple effect of order entry mistakes, medication, and treatment missteps, among other occurrences. Considering all the disciplines to interact with patients, at what point does the risk to patient care become too great?
Professional Advocacy is a Mandate
There must be greater advocacy and action to acknowledge the vital interprofessional contributions rendered by entire workforce. Professional associations, their leadership, and those in positions to do so, must assert influence to promote the value of their requisite members. Language promoting self-care and professional advocacy has started to shift across these entities, though must further amplify. Many colleagues actively use their social media presence to write articles, blogs, and other messaging to lead this charge; more must join the discussion and advocate for action. Media attention must be swift, fierce, and consistent.
There must be collective accountability across the professional landscape to acknowledge, and reconcile this issue, spanning academia, credentialing and regulatory entities, professional associations, and of course, employers. Workforce sustainability directly impacts quality health and behavioral healthcare, ultimately saving lives and dollars. Reaching this goals takes the expertise and contribution of each interprofessional team member. The full scope of professionals must be recognized for their sacrifices and dedication to patient wellness; anything less is unacceptable.