The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has launched a resources website designed to help health care workers and first responders take better care of themselves, after spending more than a year and a half on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.
The Resources for Health Care Workers website, uthsc.edu/coronavirus/healthcare-workers-resources.php, offers links to resources for immediate and long-term emotional support; building resilience; mental and physical health; wellness strategies; dealing with grief, stress, and burnout; as well as approaches for health care workers to support each other. The resources take various formats, including links, articles, podcasts, Apps, webinars, and videos. The page will evolve as additional resources are added, and it offers the opportunity for the public to submit resources deemed helpful for inclusion.
The website was prompted by the concerns of Richard Walker, MD, interim chair of Emergency Medicine and program director for the Emergency Medicine Residency program at UTHSC. Dr. Walker works in emergency departments in the city and has seen emergency room wait times increasing, while general hospital and ICU bed availability are decreasing.
As the Delta variant spreads and resources are stretched, health care workers report experiencing high levels of stress, work overload, and burnout. Factors, such as staffing shortages, a lack of essential equipment and supplies, and the number of patients and their needs for health care, are leading to irreconcilable conflicts between the training of health care professionals to provide the highest level of care for everyone and the need to make choices for care based on those limiting factors. The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing health care workers to circumstances previously seen primarily in combat situations or severe disasters.
“When the health care system is overwhelmed, a great deal of personal moral distress, called moral injury, can occur as health care workers are forced to choose to treat some patients and are unable to provide care to others,” said Ronald Cowan, MD, PhD, Harrison Distinguished Professor and chair of Psychiatry at UTHSC. “In addition, some health care workers will experience depression, anxiety, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, increased substance use, and suicidal thinking.”
Available on the website is a three-part educational webinar produced by the UTHSC College of Nursing offering guidance for decision-making concerning the ethical allocation of scarce resources during a community-wide public health emergency. The college was “hearing of the need to share how patients will be managed within an ethical framework during a catastrophic community-wide public health emergency,” said Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP, Ruth Neil Murry Endowed Chair and dean of the College of Nursing. “We also felt it was important to recognize the grief experience of health care workers and encourage self-care. We hope the guidance provided by the Tennessee Altered Standards of Care Workgroup will not be needed, but it is important to educate health care workers about the plan and what it entails. We hope our community finds this a useful resource. We intentionally kept the videos brief to facilitate their use.”
As Tennessee’s public, academic health care institution, UTHSC has been a leader in offering reliable and timely information about the coronavirus. UTHSC launched a website with resources about the coronavirus in late February 2020.
The site, uthsc.edu/coronavirus, which has had more than 121,000 visits since it launched, is designed to include the best available information about the coronavirus, as well as answers to frequently asked questions, and links to national, state, and local organizations monitoring the virus. The Resources for Health Care Workers website is included in the coronavirus website.
“UTHSC is committed to supporting our front-line health care workers, who shoulder the burden of triaging and providing care during this pandemic,” said Cynthia Russell, PhD, RN, vice chancellor for Academic, Faculty, and Student Affairs at UTHSC.
“All six of our colleges and several academic support units collaborated to curate and develop resources for this dedicated website that we believe will be of great benefit to health care workers and their families and friends.”