The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic of nurses and healthcare workers have been discussed, speculated, and bemoaned at length. But one study has finally placed values and extents to the damage done.
A new study from The Ohio State University College of Nursing highlights the findings of a survey of travel nurses at hospitals and healthcare systems across the country associated with Trusted Health between August and October 2020.
American Nurse talked with Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, University Chief Wellness Officer and Dean of the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University (OSU), about the findings from the study – as well as the measures Ohio State has in place to protect its professionals from physical and mental health pitfalls.
OSU surveyed over 260 nurses across the country – primarily travel nurses who worked on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some key numbers from the study:
On a 10-point scale, a majority of nurses reported physical health (74.6%) and mental health (80.7%) at a five or lower. Additionally:
• 53.8% reported that the pandemic made their physical health worse.
• 79.2% reported that the pandemic made their mental health worse.
“About 30 percent were suffering from depressive symptoms,” said Dr. Melnyk, “and another 37 percent suffering from anxiety.”
65 percent reported feeling ‘burned out’ to some degree.
Shift length played a factor as well, as those who were working 12-hour shifts showed poor physical and mental health outcomes. “We must stop 12-hour shifts,” Dr. Melnyk insisted. “We have so much evidence now showing the longer the shift work, the poorer the health of the nurses.”
What’s more, longer shifts are potentially harmful to patients as well, as Dr. Melnyk cited evidence of increased medical errors during extended shift work. “[Longer shifts] are adversely affecting the quality and safety of the healthcare.”
Positive Outcomes and Wellness Framework
Nurses who perceived their workplaces as supporting their health and wellbeing were anywhere from three to nine times as likely to report good physical and mental health. What’s more, these nurses engaged in healthier behaviors, including:
• Physical activity
• Healthy dietary habits
• 7+ hours of sleep per night
“These behaviors are so critical, because 80 percent of chronic disease is preventable with just these few healthy lifestyle behaviors,” said Dr. Melnyk.
At OSU, they’re not just talking about it either. “We have a philosophy – In God We Trust, but everyone else better bring data!” exclaimed Dr. Melnyk. “We make evidence-based decisions, including rapidly translating what we know works into clinical practice.
“We take a comprehensive, integrative approach to health and wellbeing. If leaders, managers, and supervisors don’t support their people and their wellbeing, you’re not going to get these healthy lifestyle behaviors.”
Lastly, OSU leadership targets the organization at a grassroots level by fixing system issues that cause burnout (long shifts, staffing issues.)
“You’ve got to provide folks with a fabulous wellness culture, along with evidence-based intervention that we know are protective against mental and physical health disorders.”
Ohio State has gone as far as to create a Wellness Framework outlining the university’s commitment to providing a mentally and physically healthy workplace.