Phoenix health care worker burnout highlighted by visit from U.S. Surgeon General, Health and Human Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Surgeon General made their way to Phoenix to highlight the alarming rise in healthcare worker burnout.

The surgeon general and Arizona doctors say healthcare worker burnout has always been a problem, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue, and it’s a trickle-down effect.

Meaning, that when there’s burnout, it puts more pressure on those who are working, and it gives less care to the patients who really need it.

"It’s very, very unfortunate when I see that there’s an empty psychiatric bed. Psychically it’s empty, we have no nurses to staff it, so we can’t send the patient there," explained Dr. Frank LoVecchio with Valleywise Health.

Psychiatric patients could be waiting in custody or in the emergency room for up to two days before even getting a bed, he says. For those in an already vulnerable mental state, it’s certainly not ideal.

"It’s my understanding that there was an issue last week where there wasn’t enough nurses to cover the psychiatric beds in our city. Unfortunately, the psychiatric patients don’t know that, and they still come to the emergency room seeking help," LoVecchio said.

This is a result of short staffing and a clear shortage of psychiatric beds throughout Arizona.

"In our state, we should be having about 150 beds per every 100,000. We have closer to about 100 for every 100,000, so we’re short a huge amount," LoVecchio said.

The U.S. Surgeon General and other leaders in HSS stopped by Phoenix Indian Medical Center on May 24 to bring attention to the problem and hopefully find a solution.

"Health care workers faced wave after wave of patients with COVID19 – as they sustained verbal and physical attacks as well. Keep in mind, 8 in 10 health workers dealt with psychical or verbal attacks during the pandemic," said Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

More than 50% of healthcare workers were burned out, Murthy says, the pandemic has made the problem "drastically worse.