Whitehawk Associates


Enabling Healthcare Workers Recover From COVID Trauma

War destabilizes our lives. COVID-19 pandemic is no less than a war, certainly. While most of the world is relaxed and basking in the almost COVID-free world, the news of Shanghai going under phased lockdown is again raising concerns. It seems like we are far from the pre-COVID times. 

Our healthcare workers can very well be personified as our brave soldiers combating this fatal virus. Many pieces of research have come to a conclusion that continual exposure to this virus did affect the physical and mental health of the medical staff who were at the forefront. 

In the pre-COVID era, physicians ran a higher risk of suffering from burnout as compared to the general public. These numbers increased exorbitantly during the COVID wave. Within a few months of COVID, the number of clinicians having symptoms of sleep disorder, depression, PTSD, etc. jumped from 40 per cent to  65 to 70 per cent.

The burnout was highest during the initial few months of the pandemic. Between June and September 2020, a survey of 1119 healthcare workers reported – 93 percent suffering from stress, 76 per cent from exhaustion and burnout and 86 percent suffering from anxiety.   

The Healthcare industry is one of the largest industries in the United States accounting for 14 per cent of the total workforce- as reported by the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. Despite there being about 22 million healthcare workers it is a reality that there is an acute shortage of workers in this sector. This situation of more demand oversupply created dire pressure on the existing medical chain exhausting it to the fullest. 

Given the above, it is vital to look out for the physical and mental well being of the healthcare workers. Leaders of the healthcare industry are adopting conventional as well as innovative ways to replenish the energy levels of their medical staff. 

Here are a few methods adopted by Leaders:

Compassion and Empathy


About 82 per cent of the health workers felt emotionally exhausted during the first wave of COVID-19. The responsibility to save lives while putting theirs at risk came down heavily on the healthcare workers. During such times, emotional support and the act of empathy and compassion went a long way for many hospitals. 

Mayo clinic did exemplary work in this direction. It fostered leaders who had these traits and pushed them up in the hierarchy. They had evaluated the leadership style by assessing leaders on the following 5 barometers: include, inform, inquire, develop, and recognise

The results from this survey were satisfactory and employees were content working for such leaders.

Planned shifts

Spending more time on ground zero can negatively impact the efficiency of the workers. Additionally, spending more time on the site can also affect their mental health. 

It is rational to plan the duration a healthcare worker will spend in the ICU and on visits. Taking lessons from these studies, many hospitals and clinics had carved out specific arrival and on-site time.

There is a direct correlation between the time spent on the disaster site and depression. During the waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare workers had to arrive at the site not just once but every day. So, it was more vital to plan their shifts. 

Planning shifts of healthcare workers helped leaders in creating and nurturing psychologically safe environments.

Also Read: Masks, Myths and Novel Coronavirus


Build trust and extend a helping hand financially as well as emotionally


Many workplaces faced permanent shut down and clinics and hospitals were no exception. There was a way of confusion and distrust between most employers and employees. 

During such times, many healthcare giants came up with strong policies to rebuild trust. No layoff policy by Torrance Memorial Medical Center is one such example. 

Henry Ford Health System did stupendous work for its employees. They formed teams that deployed initiatives such as spiritual health, sleep management, 24*7 emotional hotlines, etc. across the organization.

Leaders at Henry Ford Health System were looked upon and applauded for their support. These leaders contributed a portion of their salary to creating a fund for their co-workers. 

Many employers collaborated with clinics that sent out mental health checkup surveys to all its employees. The survey aimed at

addressing issues like depression, anxiety, suicidality and PTSD. Based on the survey results, leaders would have a sit down with the concerned employee to discuss what can be done differently.


Giving them the time they need – a reprieve


This concept of a ‘period of reprieve from service’ is widely acclaimed in the military. Once the fighter comes back from a war, he/she is given time off from the service. This can aid frontline members to prepare well for what comes next. 

The recovery period for a healthcare worker will largely depend on the kind of responsibilities he/she is shouldering. Leaders can draw down an elusive plan based on the above. The concept of one size fits all will not work in this case. This could include relaxed workflow, role change, paid leaves, paid holiday with the family, etc.  

Frontline workers have been the lifesavers and the only ray of hope through the grim times. During the COVID-19, the country faced a major and alarming shortage of healthcare workers. This exhausted the present healthcare pipelines and all its stakeholders. 

This was eye-opening for the government as well as private players.  The demand for healthcare workers just in the United States is expected to grow by 16 per cent by 2030 as compared to 2020.

Given this Leaders will have to develop ways and means to hire and retain their medical staff. The measures suggested above are only a few examples of how you can help replenish the well-being of your healthcare workers. As time evolves, Leaders will have to adapt by finding new methods and means in taking care of their staff.

Human capital is the epicentre of the healthcare industry. Therefore, it is paramount for every organization to find ways and means to address the issues faced by them.   

At Whitehawk Associates (https://whitehawkassociates.com/), we help our clients in addressing such issues. Talk to us about the challenges your organisation is facing and the growth you want to see. Give us a shout at [email protected] by leaving us a quick message and we will be in touch.

Also Read: The Four Horsemen of the COVID Apocalypse