Coronavirus Has Accelerated Health Care Worker Burnout And It’s A ‘Reckoning We All Have To Face’

If you are in crisis, or are looking for mental health services for you or someone you know, call the Colorado Crisis Services hotline. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak with a trained counselor or professional. Counselors are also available at walk-in locations or online to chat […]

If you are in crisis, or are looking for mental health services for you or someone you know, call the Colorado Crisis Services hotline. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak with a trained counselor or professional. Counselors are also available at walk-in locations or online to chat between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m.

Lam said he was aware of a pair of paramedics in the community who died by suicide in the past couple of months.

Medical workers suffered “soaring” rates of anxiety, depression, and insomnia, according to studies cited in a recent report in the New York Times.

A story earlier this year spotlighted the elevated mental health risks for providers. A top emergency room physician, Dr. Lorna Breen, worked at a New York City hospital that treated many coronavirus patients. She died by suicide in April. Her father, also a doctor, said she had described the devastating toll COVID-19 took on patients.

“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he told the New York Times.

One large national survey, the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020, found 42 percent of doctors reported they’re burned out. The poll came out in January before the pandemic started. Specialties listed at the top for self-reported burnout included some of the most stressful, and ones now treating a lot of COVID-19 patients seeing a lot of COVID-19 cases. The list includes “critical care, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, neurology and urology.”

The survey site described burnout as “long-term, unresolvable job-related stress that leads to exhaustion, cynicism, feelings of detachment from one’s job responsibility and a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment.”

One author and expert, Dr. Frank John Ninivaggi, a doctor at Yale New Haven Hospital, described “administrative burden” as a leading cause. Long hours, heavy workload and a lack of support were also cited.

Lam said since the pandemic hit, his hospital has encouraged patients who survived COVID-19 to share their stories with those who helped save them.

“So when you walk in to, before you work your shift, some of those entrance points, they’ve done a really good job of posting all those wonderful pictures, all those letters [from survivors of COVID-19], trying to put that in front of the health care teams as they’re going to start their job,” he said. “I think that does matter. I think that makes a big difference.”

Lam said he got motivated to take proactive steps to help his colleagues after a fellow doctor took her own life. It happened early in his career when he was working in Australia.

“I wonder if, as her supervising physician, could I have done more?” Lam asked. “I think I could have done more for her as a colleague. Some of the biggest risk factors for suicide include means, so every physician knows how to die by suicide. And in some ways, they’ve conquered death because they see that all the time.”

He wished he’d been more aware of her struggles and told her, “I’m here to help.”

“I still carry [her] with me,” Lam said. “That’s why I’m pretty passionate about mental wellbeing and wellness and being an advocate for wellbeing for my colleagues.”

The ongoing pandemic just underscores the importance of healthcare works and first responders getting mental health support now, DellaVecchia said.

“If there is a surge, there will be more burnout. There will be more turnover,” he said. “All essential workers will suffer and all people will continue to suffer — from health concerns to economic hardships.”


The Past the Pandemic program offers The Well-Being Support Line to faculty, clinicians and staff. It’s run by volunteers — mostly students and staff — with back up support from licensed mental health providers. It can also line up referrals for longer-term treatment upon request. The support line can be reached at 303-724-2500.

The Physician-to-Physician Support Line is for medical doctors and medical personnel with PhDs who want to talk to someone familiar with the issues physicians face. It can be reached at is 303-724-1636.

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