Front Line Fatigue: Health Workers Face Coronavirus Burnout

New study finds stress levels have risen significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the well-being of both health care workers and their patients at risk. NBC's Sarah Dallof reports.

(NBC News) — As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on health care workers are in crisis.

“We’re physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically exhausted,” says nurse Subhawana Pradhananga.

They’re being pushed to the breaking point by COVID-19.

“It doesn’t stop and we don’t know when its going to stop,” says critical care physician Dr. Andy Wilhelm.

A recent study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine finds the prevalence of burnout is 40-percent, with median self-reported stress level increasing from a three to an eight among critical care providers.

That can lead to more medical errors, substance abuse or self-harm.

Dr. Lorna Breen died by suicide in May, overwhelmed, her family said, by caring for critical covid patients.

“I know my sister felt like she couldn’t sit down. She couldn’t stop working,” says Jennifer Feist, Breen’s sister.

Burnout is not new, but it’s happening faster and more frequently due to new stressors including lack of PPE and fear of infecting loved ones.

Dr. Oren Friedman contracted coronavirus in March.

When he recovered, Dr. Friedman traveled to New York to treat coronavirus patients.

Now back in Los Angeles, he’s treating cases at Cedars-Sinai.

“One of the difficult things that we face that causes tremendous stress for us is when we leave our jobs, we go back into our communities and we see people that are out in the community that aren’t social distancing, aren’t wearing masks, going about life as if we are not dealing with this pandemic,” he says.

Signs of burnout include emotional exhaustion, cynicism, depersonalization and feelings of low personal accomplishment.

The authors of the Cleveland Clinic article say stress management trainings, exercise programs, and small group programs focusing on community can help combat it.

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