- Lisa Zerden, MSW, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for MSW Education, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: COVID-19 has caused substantial burnout among healthcare. The impact of burnout among the health workforce most often focuses on clinical providers. However, less lauded and recognized are lower-paid essential workers within health systems who keep patients and employees clean, fed, and moving. These workers and their needs are often “invisible” when conceptualizing who comprises the essential health workforce. Population: Twenty low-wage, frontline workers from three states were interviewed. Seven participants worked in environmental services (i.e., housekeeping), six in food services, five in patient transport, and two had front-desk roles. On average, workers had been in their jobs for 5.8 years (ranging from 3 months to 20 years), and most (80%) had their jobs prior to the pandemic. Study design: Qualitative interviews explored the main sources of stress that contributed to feelings of burnout and strategies to help buffer these stressors and provide professional and personal supports. Data collection: Interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview guide over an e-meeting platform. All interviews were checked for accuracy and transcribed for thematic content analysis. Interviews focused on participants’ work and educational background; levels of burnout they experienced, COVID-19 resources provided by their employer; homelife and job security. Key results: Low-wage workers (N=20) from hospitals in California (n=1), Colorado (n =5), and North Carolina (n=14) were interviewed. All participants indicated that their basic needs were met yet qualitative analysis revealed more nuanced themes. Overall, seven themes were identified including: changes in duties and understaffing, fear of contracting COVID-19 for self and others, desire for recognition, lack of clarity and perceived unequal distribution of COVID-19 benefits, employer provision of paid time off, organizational efforts for mental health support, and self-coping strategies and pride in job.
- Understand the unique experiences of low-wage, frontline workers in various healthcare settings in three different states.
- Describe the impact of working during the COVID-19 pandemic on low-wage healthcare workers.
- Identify best practices to support and prevent burnout for hidden yet essential healthcare workers.