Health care workers the real “Persons of the Year”

Time magazine lost a great opportunity when it named President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris its “Person of the Year.”
Nothing against the incoming administration but unremarkable, lifelong politicians have done little to deserve accolades in 2020, especially when compared to those who are really making a difference in this dark year: health care workers.
For 10 months they’ve been battling the coronavirus, often shorthanded, and putting themselves at risk all while dealing with exhaustion and emotional hardship.
In Massachusetts we’ve lost more than 11,200 people to the pandemic and almost to a person there were teams of health care workers desperately trying to fight the disease back, provide comfort to the sick and devote every bit of themselves to making sure that those who slipped away did so as humanely as possible.
In some locations and during peak fatality days this means that workers are dealing with casualties on a level usually reserved for wartime in military facilities.
Dr. Roy Perlis, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the American Cancer Society journal, “There’s this chronic period of elevated stress that’s punctuated by acute exacerbations. In general, we’re much better at telling ourselves, ‘I can get through this,’ if we know when it’s going to end.”
But they haven’t known when it was going to end since it started, and that is taking a toll as “many have faced the unfamiliar worry of having to make life‐or‐death decisions for patients multiple times a day,” the journal states.
According to a survey released earlier this month that was conducted by Mental Health America with funding from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the nonstop onslaught is leaving its mark on those battling COVID-19 on the front lines.
Of those surveyed, 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.
Over 80% of health care workers reported feeling emotional exhaustion, almost 70% felt physically exhausted and many others felt a various combination of other physical side effects of their day to day in the age of the pandemic.
MHA says all of these emotional strains can have a dire impact on mental health. “Stress if left untreated can lead to more severe mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and even thoughts of suicide or self-harm.”
“Health care workers have been thrust onto the front lines, exposed to a deadly virus daily,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “With the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases, it is getting worse by the day and health care workers aren’t getting a reprieve. They are frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed, burned out and worried about exposing their loved ones, nurses in particular.”
Tragically, many who need help may not take advantage of the resources that are available. “I do think that part of the battle is recognizing that health care workers may be less comfortable seeking care,” Perlis told the ACS.
Our health care heroes are in the thick of it right now. We must be sure to support them as a community and demand that elected leaders provide them with the resources they need to recover from the demands of this year.
We thank our health care workers, our “Persons of the Year.”

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