For several months, from our respective perspectives in the healthcare system, we have been thinking about the reasons for laying off frontline workers. According to a study published in October, 1 in 5 healthcare professionals have quit or retired, and another 20% are considering leaving the healthcare system altogether. At the start of the new year, we think it’s time to do something about it.
As employers evaluate how to protect, retain, and support healthcare workers, one major issue that needs to be addressed is unpaid caregiving responsibilities, which more than double the mental impact on working caregivers (or double-duty workers). ARCHANGELS data shows that 43% of adults in the US work for free as carers, and we believe they need more resources from employers to care for themselves and their loved ones.
An unpaid guardian is a parent, guardian, or carer of a person over the age of 18, such as an aged parent or spouse. According to ARCHANGELS, many unpaid caregivers are unaware of their role—in their minds, they are “just a son” or “wife.” We must acknowledge that many of our paid healthcare professionals are also unpaid caregivers and they neglect to acknowledge the dual impact of these roles. As a result, they may deny their own feelings of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion.
The reality is that caring for someone at home, at work, or in your community is a lot of work and can affect every aspect of our lives, including our willingness and ability to keep working.
Last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study that found that 70% of all caregivers reported at least one adverse mental health symptom, including anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Among those caregivers who belong to the “sandwich generation” – caring for both children and adults – a staggering 52% report recent serious suicidal thoughts. Can you imagine that they are responsible for caring for patients during a deadly pandemic and continue to care for others? Health care workers need a break, and employers and society at large can step in to help.
The Henry Ford Health System has recognized these barriers to working caregivers, especially frontline workers, and has established the award-winning CARE program, which offers all employees access to resources that help paid and unpaid caregivers. Resources are available for mental and behavioral health, family issues, financial pressures, and more.
Given the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce, we believe programs like this need to be scaled up and expanded. We gave our employees the opportunity to complete the ARCHANGELS care intensity index and found that almost 1 in 3 (31%) scored “red” or “high intensity”. The ARCHANGELS data also showed that support programs focused on the health and well-being of caregivers are an important tool in the fight against burnout. If employees had more programs to assess their level of care intensity and easy access to user-friendly support, perhaps more working healthcare staff could meet their own mental health needs while supporting their loved ones, colleagues and patients.
With the advent of omicrons and a striking workforce shortage, it is time for employers to step up and do more to support unpaid caregivers, especially double-duty workers such as healthcare workers. If more resources are available that take into account the intensity and complexity of employees who in many cases are carers, we have a chance to improve work-life balance and help people stay comfortably in their jobs when they are most needed.