Burnout was a hot topic in health care before COVID-19 hit, but since the pandemic it has taken on even greater meaning. Respiratory therapists have been battling the virus for months now, and no one would blame them for feeling overwhelmed and worn out.
But patients are still getting sick, and they deserve the best care possible. How can respiratory care departments ensure they keep productivity high and burnout low this long into an unprecedented pandemic? AARC member Susan Wynn, MSM, RRT, shares her experiences.
It is real
“Compassion fatigue — it is real,” said Wynn, who serves as director of respiratory care and sleep services at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, IN. While she emphasizes her RTs continue to carry out their duties in a professional manner, ensuring each and every patient is cared for like they are family and celebrating every time a COVID patient is discharged. Being stressed is certainly understandable.
Part of it comes from the lack of adherence to preventive measures out in the community. “They can’t seem to understand why the public won’t care about them more and stay home, stop traveling, and stop exposing themselves and others,” she said. “It is difficult for them to have compassion for people who are not playing by the rules.”
Thankfully, leaders in her hospital have taken a proactive approach throughout the pandemic, ensuring clinicians have the support they need to push through the anxieties caused by the virus and keep going for the patients who need them.
Less work, more information
It started with her own department. “We have halted some of our outpatient volumes to free up staff for inpatients, which has taken a lot of the stress off by having more hands,” she said. Back in March, they also began using RNs for O2, ETCO, and SpO2 checks, incentive spirometry, inhaler administration, and equipment cleaning.
When nurses stopped doing those tasks, the department turned to agency staff to supplement the RTs in the department. Wynn says this measure has really helped to ensure her therapists aren’t working more hours than they should.
On an organization-wide basis, staff can take advantage of mental health videos recorded by the hospital psychiatrist, and VPs and the hospital president round with clinicians on a regular basis to show support and get a firsthand look at what it takes to care for these patients. “Our VP of patient care services, an RN, is actually working shifts on the floor to assist,” Wynn said.
A COVID hotline staffed by personnel from infection control offers information on how to manage symptoms and quarantine if a staff member is exposed or tests positive.
“This has provided consistency with advising staff, rather than staff calling their department supervisors and getting told various different things,” Wynn said.
Local churches have gotten into the act as well, providing spiritual encouragement to staff who need extra help.
Wynn says the most effective tactic to be deployed by the hospital so far, though, is a daily COVID data report from the hospital president. Delivered either by video or by the marketing department, these daily stats let everyone know where the hospital stands in terms of COVID-19, where the hospital is trending, and what staff can expect to see from week to week. “They are working hard to keep staff informed and appreciated,” she says.
A little bit of joy goes a long way
As a result of these efforts, Wynn believes productivity in her department has remained relatively good so far. With an organization-wide emphasis on the personal wellbeing of staff, her therapists are taking the time to take care of themselves, and they come in to work rejuvenated.
“They are not ceasing to provide stellar support for patients,” she said.
An initiative she launched back in January of 2020, before the pandemic really took off here in the U.S., has made an impact too.
“We started a program last January for two staff each month to do things for the department for morale — little did we know COVID was coming,” she said. “Each month a team has brought in fun things and treats for each other.”
That little bit of joy during so much sorrow has done wonders.
“It means a lot coming from your co-workers,” Wynn said.
Looking for more?
- Keep the conversation going on AARConnect and share how you’re helping fight burnout.
- Check out the Wellness Webinars provided by CHEST.
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