Houston Methodist Hospital President Dr. Marc Boom explains that medical workers are overburdened because of the high numbers of infected patients admitted to hospitals and the increasing number of infected staff in isolation. Although health interventions are able to control the transmission of the virus, hospital presidents are pointing out that medical frontliners are getting more exhausted as the pandemic continues to drag on.
The State of Healthcare Workers During the Course of the Pandemic
A heavy burden has been placed upon medical workers due to the medical crisis. A scientific review on medical staff groups across different countries revealed that their safety was their utmost concern, especially because frontliners treat patients directly. The review cited that nurses in China were worried about their welfare, especially due to the unavailability of personal protective equipment for medical workers. In the early stages of the pandemic, their direct exposure to cases had the potential to lead to life-threatening infections due to the lack of medicines formulated specifically for the virus.
Aside from defending themselves against infection, the review emphasized that medical staff were also battling against fatigue and burnout. Despite the diverse roles and responsibilities of healthcare workers, the majority of medical professionals had to devote extra time to ensure hospital’s weren’t overwhelmed. And in line with the new health regulations and procedures, health administrators spent more time creating and implementing relevant hospital policies for sanitation and care. Medical technologists also worked overtime in laboratories to ensure a quick turnaround for the results of COVID-19 tests. The aforementioned review also mentioned that a nurse in Toronto had to work multiple 12-hour shifts in the emergency department with no breaks to cater to all admitted patients.
The Gaps Causing the Alarming Struggles of Medical Frontliners
Given that medical frontliners are overworked and at risk in their workplaces, a review on the mental health impact of the pandemic revealed that one out of every four healthcare workers was diagnosed with mild anxiety, depression, or insomnia. One study in the review highlighted that healthcare workers experienced anxiety and fear, especially since they felt inadequately prepared to handle the pandemic on a hospital-level.
Other studies have also emphasized the importance of training regarding COVID-19 infection and control, especially from authority figures within the workplace. The lack of training for the pandemic made frontline workers feel vulnerable to the infectious disease, causing them to experience even more mental distress.
Apart from training hospital workers on handling a pandemic, it is also important to ease the burden on medical frontliners by providing equal access to vaccines. One of our articles emphasized that prioritizing wealthy countries and placing value on profits in vaccine distribution is a form of injustice to everyone. Without a collective response, we’ve seen that the virus will only mutate and develop powerful variants that current vaccine options are unable to fully defend against. Due to the unequal distribution of vaccines, healthcare workers will have to risk their health and endure longer shifts every time infection rates surge.
Healthcare workers continue to struggle because of the unsystematic responses to the pandemic. While they were burdened by the lack of preparations for the first waves of the virus, they continue to be overworked and over-exposed because of the inequality in vaccine distributions. To properly honor the heroes of the pandemic, it’s important to explore how medical systems and care interventions can be improved.