Survey analyzes frontline health care workers’ stress

An online survey called “The Stress Impact of COVID-19 on Health Care Professionals” seeks to gauge the mental health of frontline health care workers. Photo: David Sutta for the University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

An online survey called “The Stress Impact of COVID-19 on Health Care Professionals” seeks to gauge the mental health of frontline health care workers. Photo: David Sutta for the University of Miami

Survey analyzes frontline health care workers’ stress

By Barbara Gutierrez
Guerda Nicolas, a professor of the School of Education and Human Development, created the research that aims to reveal the strain faced and help provide a remedy.

Dr. Lorna M. Breen, an emergency room doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in New York City, committed suicide after treating patients with COVID-19 and recovering from the disease herself. Her father told members of the media that his daughter did not have any previous mental health issues but had been rattled by the deaths of many patients.

Thousands of frontline health workers face the same stress that Breen faced every day. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 people nationally, has made the work of these professionals a relentless difficult war where they are fighting to keep patients alive while trying to safeguard themselves from the virus.

In an effort to gauge the mental health of these frontline workers, Guerda Nicolas, a professor in the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development who has worked in the mental health field for decades, along with two other colleagues, have launched an online survey called “The Stress Impact of COVID-19 on Health Care Professionals.”

“We need to understand the type of stress they are experiencing so we can put in place interventions for them now,” said Nicolas. “Psychological help is crucial.”

The survey, which is being distributed through social media by health and medical organizations, takes about 10 minutes to complete and asks questions ranging from the participants’ concerns about the virus and how it has affected their routines, including sleep and daily activities. The survey was launched in early May and has been completed by almost 200 health care workers.

Dr. Marie Denise Gervais, a family physician with the Miller School of Medicine who along with residents sees patients at Jefferson Reaves, Sr. Health Center, a Jackson Health System clinic in Overtown, said that she saw the stress on many of these health care providers when the pandemic first hit Miami-Dade County.

“All the residents on the floors of Jackson Hospital were wondering whether this patient was positive or not,” she said. Now, patients testing positive for the virus have been isolated to specific floors of the medical facility. But the stress for the doctors, nurses, and other health workers continue, she said.

“For them,” she said, it means “putting all that gear on and making sure that they are doing it correctly.” And when they unrobe, she added, they have to make sure they are doing that correctly, too. “Then they go home to families, and many have kids and older parents. I can only imagine the kind of stress they are experiencing,” she remarked.

Gervais believes that some of these health care providers have experienced trauma and, in the future, the effects of the stress will become known.

“Some of them will certainly experience PTSD,” she said. “That’s why this kind of survey is important … to survey them now and in the future.”

Nicolas views the survey as crucial, even as the participants are amid the pandemic.

“Oftentimes, our frontline workers in health and physical health are so busy running and doing so much that there is no time to talk about the stress that they themselves are experiencing,” she said.

An additional stressor, said Nicolas, is that families cannot be present with their sick relatives to provide comfort and care. Health care workers have taken that role.

“So, you have health care workers who have to provide the mental health as well as physical care,” she said. “They have to be in contact with the family. Using their phones to be able to talk with family members.”

All this can take an additional emotional toll that could come back to haunt them, Nicolas pointed out.

In March, the World Health Organization, aware of the stress and pressure that health care workers face, issued a number of guidelines.

It warned health care facilities to “ensure that staff are aware of where and how they can access mental health and psychosocial support services and facilitate access to such services.”

Nicolas echoed those concerns and said that health care institutions can help their workers in many ways, including:

  • Provide all frontline health care workers a space weekly where they can decompress and share their experiences with others.
  • Introduce meditation and relaxation sessions (either virtually or in person) to relieve stress.
  • Provide tips on how to deal with stress, insomnia, anxiety, and other ailments through their communication channels.
  • If possible, once or twice a week, provide healthy catered meals to the staff so that they feel appreciated.

Although the survey will continue to circulate as long as the virus continues, Nicolas said that she and her colleagues would evaluate results from completed surveys every 4 to 6 weeks to provide organizations with reports that can be used right away.

Health care workers can visit to access the survey.