The pandemic has been going on for more than a year now and is still not coming to an end. With this, health care workers have not had a moment of peace without worrying about death and disease. They are exhausted and overworked treating COVID-19 patients who are still in recovery, and some who might never recover. It is obvious that this has taken a toll on workers and their lives.
The System Needs To Be Changed To Protect Front-Line Workers
For the last sixteen months, Breen’s family has been mourning her loss. Dr. Lorna Breen was a physician in New York City, who became news headlines last year. Breen pushed herself harder every day to save patients from the virus. Between this, she contracted the virus and fell ill. This couldn’t stop her, she recovered soon and went straight back to work.
When she came back, the situation had worsened. She was subjected to even more profound numbers of patients struggling for their lives. Additionally, supplies were limited, and beds were unavailable.
Like thousands of health care workers who are struggling to keep up the pace with the delta variant and keep their mental health in check, Lorna needed help. Even being in great depths of anguish, she prioritized her job. She believed that consulting a professional would make her less authentic and she may lose her medical license.
Unable to cope up, she committed suicide on 26th April 2020.
Her story has been retold time and again to understand the root causes that lead to workers taking this extreme step. It was tragic, and unfortunately, preventable.
One way that would have saved her life was the fact that there is no law that would’ve stopped her from taking professional help. It was learned after her death that there isn’t any requirement of mental health in New York City’s medical license application. If only she was equipped with this information, her life could’ve been saved.
After her death, to honor her, Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation has been established. It explores the reasons for doctors and health care workers’ burnout and the consequences of it if left untreated.
Statistically, doctors and health care workers are more prone to taking their lives than general people. Most of them refrain from asking for help in fear of retribution, loss of license, and exclusion. We are in dire need to change this culture, or we might end up losing more and more people.
Numerous structural barriers can be seen in supporting the mental well-being of health care workers. Firstly, the barrier is State License Applications. They often ask general questions about the history of their mental health or hypothetical questions of what impact it can leave on their competency.
Secondly, the process of credentialing commercial insurance is very intrusive. It grants access to the health records of a doctor and has become credentialing packages’ standard part.
Third for instance is malpractice insurance applications. Physicians can face applications for this insurance that ask questions about their mental health conditions.
Physicians often refrain from taking professional help as they fear that if their records get out, they can be filed against malpractice lawsuits which make them defendants. For guarding our doctors against such fears, models should be adopted that keep their records confidential, making it easier for them to seek help when their careers make them fatigued, and they experience burnout.
ALL IN: Well-being First for Healthcare initiative has been started and many leaders and health systems are joining it. The initiative is a response to the crisis on mental health that the world is facing, especially health care workers, who spend their time on the front line.