It took the COVID-19 pandemic to remind the world of what we, as health care professionals, see in doctor’s offices and hospitals every day. Doctors and nurses need to be seen, heard, and cared for just like everyone else, and public investments are essential in protecting the well-being of frontline health care workers. Millions are staring down a supercharged threat of burnout from high-stress clinics and hospitals, working longer, and forced to contend with patients and their families who see them as adversaries. It is untenable. Without a significant new investment to reduce the risk of suicide, mental health challenges, and behavioral health conditions we can expect the quality of patient care to decline.
Thankfully, Washington is nearing historic action to care for those who care for us all. Following many of the lessons learned in Israel over the past two years, a bill to help our nation’s health care heroes live healthy, productive lives inside and outside of their profession is steadily moving closer to reaching President Joe Biden’s desk. It must get there. And it must be signed without delay.
We believe the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act may be one of the most consequential pieces of legislation before Congress today. It will better protect doctors and nurses with grants, studies, and a national campaign to ensure they are all equipped to quickly and confidentially get help when needed. The threat of inaction is acute, and the likely outcomes of a greater investment – a healthier and fresher workforce, better patient care, and slowed rates of attrition – are already playing out thousands of miles away, in Israel.
At Hadassah’s two hospitals in Jerusalem, leaders recognized early that the COVID-19 pandemic was enflaming long-simmering problems. We knew that as public interest inevitably waned doctors and nurses – lauded in the first months of the pandemic – would need to lean more heavily on their colleagues. Hadassah invested itself in building camaraderie and introduced stress reduction strategies for doctors and nurses.
Senior leaders from the hospitals have broken the old, more detached model of administration from a distance to show their staff on a regular basis that they are personally invested in the strength and health of their teams. It is now routine to safely meet outdoors and without masks. To reduce stigma and meet the challenge of availability for mental health treatment – a crisis that we see in both the U.S. and Israel – Hadassah assigned staff psychologists to work directly with the hospital’s coronavirus units. And when one of our own falls ill or is in need of help, Hadassah responds with the same concern and care as we do for our patients – we do not browbeat them into finding a well of resiliency from within that may have run dry, as many in the medical establishment do today.
Health care professionals are human and flawed, just like the rest of us. They are not to blame for their struggles – particularly under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic – and they are deserving of a sea change in how we think about and value mental and behavioral health. Barriers should be reduced. Investments should be made. Stigma should be battled.
In the U.S., policymakers recognize that while the rest of the country has started to or already turned the page on COVID-19, health care professionals remain in the thick of a crisis. This is not a community that any society can afford to deprioritize. They make up the most essential elements of an essential workforce, and they are telling us loudly and clearly that the status quo in our countries is unsustainable.
Trust has been broken in many instances between patients and doctors. We acknowledge health care professionals are losing the ability to separate themselves from their patients because their patients are attacking core components of their identity – to care for others, heal the sick, and comfort the wounded. We cannot afford to wait as trust is rebuilt. Health care professionals need greater support now and over the long term through education, intervention, and research.
The Senate has already acted. The House of Representatives, too, has passed its own version of the bill. Agreement between both chambers is required before the bill goes to the president, and it is imperative that they not fail. Members of Congress can rest assured that Hadassah advocates – many of whom work within the health care community – will be outspoken about the need to succeed.