CoVID holidays: protecting our healthcare workers

Hospitals are full of people sick with CoVID but not all of them are patients. More and more staff in our hospitals are turning up for work that they are unable to do. They are present, but not working at their best, either due to their own health problems, increased CoVID-related workload, or CoVID anxiety.

There should be CoVID “working holidays” for healthcare workers on the front line

Presenteeism  has always been around in the professions dedicated to healing. In these pandemic times, it is now an even bigger problem than absenteeism. Up to half the total costs of hospital care can come from workers who are not functioning to their capacity. For example, they often work longer to compensate for the inefficient hours. However, working longer is no solution. Health workers suffering from presenteeism are prone to make more mistakes and are less able to think clearly.

Most of us know that we shouldn’t take our CoVID to work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop some healthcare workers from going to work when they shouldn’t. For some, loss of a paycheck or fear of dismissal is a powerful motivator.  Much of the damaging presenteeism also results from long term acceptance by health care workers and health administration of the negative by-products of consistently busy clinical practice, such as back pain, depression, obesity and insomnia.

Currently, there is little impetus to address these problems given the crisis mode that prevails. But we must. It is time to disrupt our rigid health care structure so that it can bend not break. For example, we need employers to fit jobs to workers and their susceptibility to succumbing to CoVID rather than just to their skill sets, especially to maintain optimum performance.

In the absence of a vaccine, minimising viral load and assessing individual immunity are important ways to protect our beleaguered healthcare workforce.

Antiquated methods for allocating shifts need to be jettisoned and more flexible arrangements need to be established. Healthcare workers’ exposure to virus, irrespective of protective gear, and their predisposing conditions such as obesity and hypertension, should mean they are not regularly assigned to CoVID care.

There should be CoVID “working holidays” for workers on the front line. They should be rotated through less stressful and physically dangerous work environments on a regular basis to prevent the serious consequences we are already witnessing, including physician and other healthcare worker deaths due to CoVID and mental health problems such as depression and PTSD.

This is not a difficult scheduling exercise. The transportation industry is filled with examples of agile work scheduling. We must act now.

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