On weekdays, Dr. Matt Lambert is the chief medical officer at Curation Health, a health tech services company that helps providers transition to value-based care. On weekends and holidays, he's a practicing emergency department doctor at community hospitals in the mid-Atlantic region.
During the pandemic, he saw his hours and pay cut as the staffing firms he contracts with found ways to make up for the cost of lower volumes of patients in the EDs.
"I have even been pulled off the line and replaced by non-board-certified providers because they're less expensive," Lambert said.
Yet, he still faced the risks and pressures of being a front-line physician during a global pandemic and also had to deal with patients who increasingly distrusted him. It's a challenge he said he's never had to face before in his career, and it takes a toll. And he can see his colleagues struggling with the same mental, emotional and financial challenges.
Healthcare professionals like him who have shouldered so much stress and uncertainty during the pandemic "need more than days off;" they need legislation, policy changes and safeguards that address mental health and substance abuse challenges in medicine, Lambert said.
The pandemic didn't create staff burnout in healthcare workers; it exacerbated it. Significantly. In the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021, 79% of the more than 12,000 physicians who responded said their burnout began before the pandemic. During the pandemic, 93% of healthcare workers surveyed said they had experienced stress in the past three months, 86% reported anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed, according to a survey by Mental Health America.
"The issue of burnout is certainly not one that's new to the healthcare environment in the best of times. These are stressful and demanding jobs, and the pandemic only made it more so," said Akin Demehin, director of policy for the American Hospital Association.
Across the country, healthcare providers and hospitals are trying to figure out how to reduce burnout in order to retain staff, reduce errors in patient care and improve performance, as healthcare workers start the process of recovering from the emotional and mental toll of the past year.