Recognizing its unique position to understand and shed light on the collective experience of America’s health care organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, on February 2, 2021, the Joint Commission published the first in its series of special edition Sentinel Event Alerts. The special edition publication addresses COVID-19-specific concerns and comments that the Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety has received from healthcare workers, patients, families, governmental agencies, and more, as well as further insights on the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic provided by a December 2020 study by C+R Research on behalf of The Joint Commission.
Feedback from Health Care Workers
The Joint Commission stated that feedback from health care workers relates to three main fears: (1) fear of the unknown; (2) fear of getting sick; and (3) fear of bringing the virus home.
- Fear of the Unknown – The Joint Commission stated that the fear of the unknown relates, in part, to contradictory guidance from various leading sources about precautions that should be taken, shortages of PPE and other supplies, and frequently changing information, all amongst an environment healthcare workers have never worked in before.
- Fear of Getting Sick – The fear of getting sick from the COVID-19 virus was especially high among healthcare workers who were more likely to have serious complications from a COVID-19 infection due to their age, pre-existing conditions, or other factors. This fear has also caused health care workers to ask leaders to develop policies to differentiate between essential and nonessential workers and better determine if work could be completed remotely or outside of group settings.
- Fear of Bringing the Virus Home – A significant percentage of health care workers feared infecting family members. Many reported living in hotels, changing clothes in their garage before entering their home, and showering as soon as they arrived home. Others left health care altogether during the COVID-19 pandemic due to this fear, leaving many organizations struggling to find qualified staff.
The C+R Research study found that staffing issues are the greatest challenge faced by healthcare organizations, ranging from the need for increased communication with staff to increased work from home and staffing shortages.
To help combat these fears and concerns, the Joint Commission outlined the following five ways to support health care workers:
- Foster open and transparent communications to build trust, reduce fears, build morale, and sustain an effective workforce.
- Remove barriers to health care workers seeking mental health services and develop systems that support institutional, as well as individual resilience.
- Protect workers’ safety using the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Hierarchy of Controls framework.
- Develop a flexible workforce; evaluate the work being performed and determine if it can be performed remotely.
- Provide clinicians and others with opportunities to collaborate, lead, and innovate.