With more research revealing alarming levels of burnout among healthcare workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a campaign aimed at tackling the problem.

The CDC unveiled its “Impact Wellbeing” campaign, the agency’s first effort designed to enable hospitals and health systems to take better care of their clinicians. It comes just days after a CDC report that found rising burnout among healthcare workers, with more saying they are thinking of switching careers.

The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has partnered with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation to develop the campaign.

Hospitals can download questionnaires that they can give to their workers to assess their well-being. The CDC says the questionnaire can be completed in 15 minutes, so they aren’t too daunting. The agency is also offering workbooks on wellness and guides to help leaders share their own mental health struggles.

John Howard, the director of NIOSH, pointed out that problems with burnout began before the COVID-19 pandemic, as healthcare workers have struggled with long hour and high levels of stress.

“Hospital leaders need support to implement organizational changes,” Howard said in a statement. “Practical adjustments can reduce burnout and strengthen professional wellbeing within their hospitals.”

The CDC also notes that hospitals can help their workers by removing intrusive questions about their mental health from job applications. J. Corey Feist, founder and CEO of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, says many doctors and clinicians don’t seek mental health to address burnout because they fear that it will damage their careers.

“The number one driver of suicide of health workers, is their concern around these overly invasive questions that appear on all of these applications they complete,” Feist told Chief Healthcare Executive® in an interview earlier this month. (See part of our conversation with Corey Feist in this video. The story continues below)

The foundation was formed in honor of Lorna Breen, an emergency department physician who died by suicide in 2020 after dealing with overwhelming stress in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Feist has said Breen, his sister-in-law, recounted that she was worried about what would happen if co-workers learned she needed help.

The Lorna Breen Foundation has been pressing state medical boards to change their licensure questions to remove intrusive questions about mental health. And the foundation has had success.

This month, Ohio became the 26th state to remove questions about being treated for mental health issues in the past. Nine states have revised their applications this year.

A Medscape survey found 23% of doctors – more than one in five – reported depression. But that survey also showed that many aren’t getting assistance because they fear potential career repercussions. Four out of ten (41%) respondents said they didn’t seek help because they were worried their medical boards or employers would find out about it.

The foundation has been working with hospitals and health systems to take another look at their jobs applications. A dozen systems, including Bon Secours Mercy Health, Centra Health, Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Henry Ford Health, Inova Health System, Northwell Health, and others have revised their applications.

Hospitals and health systems can apply to the foundation to be recognized as “wellbeing champions” for revising their applications.

The new “Impact Wellbeing” campaign also encourages supervisors to help their staff improve work-life balance. Feist has stressed the importance of leaders at all levels in hospital systems to model that practice and encourage workers to ask for help if they need it.

Clearly, many clinicians are struggling. The Physicians Foundation released a report last month that found well over half of all physicians, residents, and medical students were struggling with burnout. The report also revealed a significant gender gap, with more women physicians and medical students reporting that they were suffering from burnout.

Gary Price, president of The Physicians Foundation, told Chief Healthcare Executive in a September interview that the findings on burnout are disturbing.

“Sadly, the overwhelming take home message from the 2023 survey is that burnout levels haven’t eased at all among physicians, despite, hopefully the worst of the pandemic being behind us,” Price says. “That points to the fact that the changes that need to be made in our organizations and systems are just as urgent as they were before the pandemic.”

Feist says it’s up to healthcare leaders to take action to take care of their workforce, for the sake of their organizations and patients.

“There’s 50% of the workforce doesn’t feel valued and supported in healthcare right now,” Feist said this month. “Workforce needs to see a visible commitment by healthcare leaders to their well-being as part of feeling valued and supported.”

Getting help

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Dial or text 988 to connect with someone. Help is available 24/7.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers resources for healthcare professionals.

NAMI: The National Alliance for Mental Illness offers “frontline wellness” resources for healthcare workers and public safety employees.

The American Association of Suicidology offers additional resources, training, and certification programs.

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