For health care professionals (HCPs) who are also caregivers at home - particularly those in dual-HCP households, single parents, and those who live with or care for a high-risk family member - the COVID-19 pandemic introduced additional hazards than those already inherent in caring for patients.
Joseph H. Donroe, MD, MPH; Tracy L. Rabin, MD, SM; Evelyn Hsieh, MD, PhD; and Jeremy I. Schwartz, MD, have authored an invited commentary, “A Broader View of Risk to Health Care Workers: Perspectives on Supporting Vulnerable Health Care Professional Households During COVID-19,” in which they detail the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic and offer recommendations for institutions to minimize the burden on vulnerable households during states of emergency.
In the midst of the first COVID-19 wave, the authors, who themselves are part of dual physician couples with school-age children, contacted colleagues throughout the Department of Internal Medicine whom they knew to be in similar situations, to inquire about their experiences.
“When Tracy and I were trying to supervise our children’s virtual schooling and simultaneously continue our clinical and academic work, I felt the urge to understand what others were going through. We all can viscerally remember this time and the individual struggles we were going through. Everyone was struggling in their own way. But it was incredibly comforting, humbling, and normalizing to hear from our colleagues about their own experiences and recommendations. So, what began as an informal ask for sharing led to a presentation of these responses and recommendations to the department and then to this manuscript,” explained Schwartz.
Twenty colleagues responded, detailing the pressures and stresses that enveloped their home situation. The team used this input, along with their personal experiences and efforts reported in the media or literature regarding support, leadership culture, operations, and logistics, to outline recommendations for increased support for these households.
“It was clear from the responses we received that there was not going to be one simple solution to the diverse challenges and concerns expressed by our colleagues. However, a few themes emerged in terms of ways in which an institution can acknowledge and try to mitigate these hardships. These include fostering local support networks, creating an institutional culture that recognizes the tension providers face balancing their personal and family well-being with professional and academic demands, and putting in place a few simple operational and logistical mechanisms that take vulnerable households into consideration,” said Hsieh.
During a state of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, health system, hospital, and medical school leadership must be flexible, open, and sensitive to the needs of households with multiple HCPs; single parent HCPs; and healthcare professional homes that include one or more high-risk persons. In order to learn the needs of the HCPs within an organization, leaders must create an environment of trust where caregivers feel comfortable voicing their concerns.
To learn more, read “A Broader View of Risk to Health Care Workers: Perspectives on Supporting Vulnerable Health Care Professional Households During COVID-19” in Academic Medicine.
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