Research Institute for Aging
Research Institute for Aging


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Improving life at work for healthcare providers

May 3, 2023 | COVID-19

Seven in 10 healthcare providers (HCP) reported worsening mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statistics Canada. While much of the general population has struggled with mental health concerns over the past few years, HCP have faced particular challenges because of an increased risk of infection, high workloads and burnout, and team member shortages, to name a few of many reasons.

Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging Kate Dupuis and Schlegel Specialist in Spirituality and Aging Jane Kuepfer have joined a team of researchers at McMaster University who want to understand the experience of HCP during the pandemic and its effect on their mental health. They are especially interested in hearing and learning from those working in long-term care and retirement homes.

“Providing care for people is very meaningful but it can also be stressful work. Senior living team members, in their various roles, often feel a sense of calling to their work,” said Kuepfer. “The pandemic put HCP into new situations, requiring rules that changed the way they provided care, and how they experienced life at work. Over the past two years, the sector has seen many workers leave because it is just too much. We need to find better ways to connect with and help those working in these spaces.”

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has increased rates of mental health challenges amongst HCP, including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and moral injury (which occurs when an individual witnesses or acts in a way that violates their moral code).

“While there is information emerging regarding the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on HCP, there is limited knowledge of the risk and resiliency factors that make HCP more likely to experience mental health challenges during this time,” explained Dupuis. “Mental health challenges can contribute to the development of depression, anxiety, moral injury, decreasing daily function and the decision to leave the workplace.”

The researchers began recruiting individuals working in long-term care and retirement home settings during the summer of 2022. They recently completed data collection via questionnaires and individual interviews, with questions focusing on participant mood, coping skills, experiences working in congregate care settings during the pandemic, and the leisure activities they do to alleviate their stress. Next is the data analysis phase.

The results of this study will provide foundational information to create effective tools for HCP and their supporters (i.e., organizations, healthcare leaders, etc.). These tools will equip them to recognize known mental health outcomes of working as an HCP during the pandemic and how and when to find support.

“I hope the findings of this study will inform the senior living sector so that all workers will be better understood and supported emotionally,” said Kuepfer. “That way, we will know how to best support HCPs, and they can continue to do their work with integrity and compassion through difficult times, and hopefully, employee retention will increase.”

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