How Hospitals Are Coping With the Crisis of Workforce Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes and challenges to the health care workforce. Prior to the pandemic, physicians, nurses and other caregivers were already experiencing record rates of workrelated
burnout or depression. Research on health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients during the pandemic shows an alarming increase in rates of anxiety, depression, insomnia and burnout.

“We’re living in a different world right now – everyone’s wearing masks, we can’t hug each other, everyone is guarded,” said Jeannine Loucks, MSN, RN-BC PMH, manager of the emergency clinical decision unit of the emergency care center at St. Joseph Hospital Orange. “We’re doing whatever it takes to get the job done for maintaining the safety of our
patients but it’s the uncertainty, the fear of the unknown, that’s difficult. Staff are asking themselves, ‘Am I going to bring the coronavirus home to my family? How do I manage my own fears?’”

The Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC) and Communities Lifting Communities (CLC) invited three hospitals – St. Joseph Hospital Orange, MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center and Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center – to share their efforts to address workforce burnout via a Nov. 9 webinar titled, A Workforce Burnout Crisis: Exploring Signs & Solutions.


When COVID-19 first hit California in March, St. Joseph Hospital Orange moved quickly to ensure the safety of patients and staff. “We started holding drills. We looked for best practices or developed our own best practices and were proactive in getting the most recent evidence-based information out to our staff on a daily basis,” Loucks said. “We obtained extra PPE and made sure our employees knew how to don and doff it correctly, through repeated drills.”

One way the hospital supports employees experiencing pandemic-related stress is through its Code Compassion team. “If someone’s having a bad day, a team of folks from the hospital goes and sits with them, debriefs and coaches them, and provides support,” Loucks explained. The team includes a member of senior leadership, an employee assistance program (EAP) representative, as well as members of the human
resources, security and employee health teams.

Unlike many hospitals, St. Joseph has its own on-site EAP representative – who is a licensed marriage and family therapist. “She is available to our staff and their immediate families if they need counseling,” Loucks said. The hospital pays for up to five counseling sessions for each staff member.

To help alleviate staff concerns about getting infected, the hospital also provides COVID-19 tests on request. More than 300 employees have been tested over the last six months. “We will swab any employee who feels they are either symptomatic or have been exposed to COVID-19, because we know they’re fearful of contracting the coronavirus and giving it to their families,” Loucks said. “We can get them the test results within one hour and help them isolate, if needed.”

To further reduce employee burnout, St. Joseph allows staff seeking more hours to work extra six-hour – rather than standard 12-hour – shifts. “A lot of our staff are working extra hours,” Loucks explained. “We offer partial shifts because we don’t want them to burn themselves out.”


“One of our biggest commitments to our staff is communication, communication, communication,” said Shela Kaneshiro, MBA, RN, BSN, NEABC, CPHQ, vice president of patient care services and CNO at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley.

Kaneshiro and the hospital’s chief operating officer both round constantly. Employees receive regular email messages from senior management. MemorialCare’s chief medical officer provides regular clinical updates. “Communication has been crucial, particularly early in the pandemic
when everyone was quite scared and still learning about COVID-19,” Kaneshiro said.