Healthcare workers including dental professionals in the United States have been facing the COVID-19 pandemic for more than three months. Stressors such as insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), fears of infection, feelings of isolation from family, and harassment from the community for enforcing strict infection prevention measures are creating strains on them, which can interfere with providing adequate patient care.
To help healthcare organizations support their staff, the Joint Commission has issued Quick Safety guidelines on “Promoting Psychosocial Well-Being of Health Care Staff During Crisis.” The advisory shares information on how healthcare organizations and staff can remove barriers to seeking mental healthcare. It also provides safety actions to consider as well as strategies for healthcare workers to support themselves and their staff.
Healthcare staff must not encounter job-related barriers to receiving mental healthcare, the Joint Commission said. In some organizations, it is common practice to ask about mental health history during the licensing or credentialing process. As a result, the Joint Commission said, clinicians may not seek care out of fear of adverse effects on their career.
The Joint Commission advises organizations that it does not require them to ask about a clinician’s history of mental health conditions or treatment and supports limiting inquiries to conditions that currently impair the clinician’s ability to perform their job. The Joint Commission hopes that that this statement helps healthcare workers feel more comfortable seeking care.
The Quick Safety also recommends strategies that clinicians can use to support themselves:
- Practice self-care and engage in healthy coping strategies.
- Take microbreaks from patient care.
- Practice good sleeping habits.
- Partner with colleagues to cross-monitor each other’s well-being.
- Stay connected with friends and family.
- Check in with yourself.
- Strive for resilience post-crisis recovery.
Strategies that managers and leaders can use to support staff include:
- Communicate regularly.
- Model behaviors that promote self-monitoring.
- Encourage the sharing of concerns to build transparency and mutual trust.
- Demonstrate the value of staff.
- Orient staff to psychosocial resources and offer the basics on psychosocial first aid.
- Proactively monitor mental well-being and provide active outreach.
- Encourage peer support.
- Share positive feedback.
- Adapt staffing, such as rotating staff between higher-stress and lower-stress functions where possible.
- Strive for resilience in post-crisis recovery.
“The mental, emotional, and physical strain healthcare workers are experiencing during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 cannot be understated,” said Erin Lawler, MS, human factors engineer with the Joint Commission.
“The Quick Safety advisory serves to support individual healthcare workers and organizations alike by providing recommendations for protective strategies and ways in which to build individual and institutional resilience during crisis. It is critical that we ensure healthcare workers have access to psychosocial resources and support now and in the future,” said Lawler.