Healthcare workers have experienced unimaginable trauma in the last year. Until recently, frontline healthcare worker’s mental health has been an afterthought. According to a new Mental Health America study, 73% of health care workers reported exhaustion and burnout during the pandemic and 82% site emotional fatigue. Looking after their diminishing mental health and wellbeing should remain a top priority.
The Covid-19 pandemic is simultaneously testing mental health, emergency response and support for the frontline workers. Now hospital systems are overrun by challenges to efficiently distribute the vaccine, which is further hindered by a healthcare worker shortage, leading to additional pressure on physicians and nurses. Combined with lack of sleep and fear of exposing loved ones, healthcare workers have reached their limits.
While it takes a very special personality, commitment and sense of duty for providers to put others’ needs before their own, this mindset, as we are seeing today, can lead to burnout in trying times. The exhaustion, emotional and even physical pain that comes with long hours prioritizing others’ health has the potential to impact the ability to deliver high quality patient care. As flight attendants instruct, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” The lesson there is to help yourself first. Many exhausted healthcare workers are heeding this advice and are turning to complementary and integrative healthcare (CIH) providers for support.
CIH providers such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists and other integrative healthcare professionals can uniquely alleviate various conditions related to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. As trained, skilled, and licensed professionals, CIH providers, are distinctively qualified to support other healthcare workers in times of crises and are contributing to a more dynamic, holistic and cross-sector approach that is aiding in the delivery whole-patient care.
Right now, many of the more than 300,000 CIH providers in the United States are offering relief to frontline healthcare workers. The stressors suffered by those on the frontline, including back pain, headache, fatigue and mental exhaustion, keep them from working at peak performance. But, chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapy treatments are supporting frontline workers physically and mentally and are empowering them to meet the most urgent healthcare system needs.
Across the county, large health systems and hospitals are expanding their services to include chiropractic doctors, acupuncturists and massage therapists aimed at supporting their staff. For example, nurses, doctors and other frontline staff at Spectra Community Health Center in North Dakota are using on-site chiropractic care to alleviate the physical and mental fatigue that comes with their work. Kris Anderson, D.C., M.S., has transitioned part of his chiropractic practice to provide care at Spectra Health. He explains, “Many essential healthcare employees are experiencing new or increased musculoskeletal problems due to long shifts and changing responsibilities. By integrating chiropractic services on-site, providers can look after their health and ensure minimal disruption to patient care.”
Centering around whole-person care approaches, CIH providers also emphasize self-care strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle for frontline workers including a focus on a healthy diet, exercise and mental wellness – such as meditation or self-reflection – which are often overlooked during major stressful events.
Rarely discussed, but an important benefit of CIH is the ability to decrease dependency on substances. Non-pharmacological options, through natural care providers, drastically help lower the risk of harm often caused by invasive treatments like drugs and surgeries, which frequently result in dependency and addiction, lower mental acuity and even time off from the workplace. A 2014 NIH study found that 40% of the nurses surveyed said their drug or substance use affected their competency level. Natural care remedies can help avoid or decrease dependencies on prescription drug use and should be considered a strategy for combating drug abuse.
Integrative care professionals strive to ensure people are accessing the right care at the right time. By engaging the CIH and alternative medicine professionals during this health crises we are preparing ourselves to better support healthcare workers during the next crisis. Although we say Covid-19 is a once in a lifetime event, there will be new and different public health emergencies in the future. Next time, thanks to this growing trend, integrating CIH professionals across the healthcare delivery system, we will be better prepared to support the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of healthcare workers from the start to minimize their burnout and maximize performance.
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