- HHS is using $103 million from the pandemic relief fund in an attempt to help reduce burnout and provide mental health services to U.S. healthcare workers.
- The sector already had a high rate of stress and burnout, but the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the problem. The surging delta variant has greatly increased hospitalizations in some parts of the country in recent weeks, also adding pressure.
- The funds are being divided into three tranches: money to hospitals and other providers to support their workforce; money to educational institutions to help teach the healthcare workforce about the perils of burnout; and a smaller amount of money to the Healthcare Resources Services Administration to provide additional technical training and assistance to existing workforce resiliency programs.
Burnout has been endemic in the healthcare sector for decades, particularly among doctors and nurses. It's brought on by long work hours and heavy patient loads.
However, COVID-19 has put even more pressure on such workers. Many were overwhelmed by the initial waves of COVID-19 cases during the first half of last year. Moreover, a new wave of COVID-19 cases created by the delta variant has caused inpatient admissions to rise by 36% in the past week, although the numbers are far lower than they were during the first months of 2020.
"If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday at a White House briefing on the COVID-19 response. "And our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated."
Even among healthcare workers who acknowledge their jobs have strained their mental health, few say they have received services to help them out, with many citing their work schedules or being too embarrassed to seek out help. A recent study by the National Academy of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that mental health outreach to healthcare workers needs bolstering.
The situation has prompted HHS to use money from the American Rescue Plan to address the issue. The largest sum — $68 million — will be parceled out in about 30 different grants to educational institutions and local public and nonprofit entities "in order to reduce burnout, suicide and promote resiliency among the workforce." Another $29 million will go to about 10 providers to expand or enhance their existing workforce programs that promote wellness. HRSA will also receive $6 million to support its existing workforce resiliency and training programs.
The Biden administration has taken other steps in the hopes of keeping healthcare workers safe. Last month, the Occupations Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency temporary standard for hospitals and other sites of care to better protect workers from the spread of COVID-19 through access to vaccines as well as paid time off and accommodations for those who might by contagious.