While it is certainly appropriate to designate a single week to honor registered nurses and all those who work in hospitals, it is important for us to acknowledge that each day across Massachusetts individuals and families entrust their very lives to the men and women who have dedicated their working lives to the caring professions.
We owe each one of them gratitude for the difficult work they do on our behalf.
Nearly all of us have spent anxiety-filled moments when our health or the health of our loved ones has been imperiled. Many of us can recall the comfort and care we received in those difficult times. What we often fail to measure, however, is the profound stress borne by those caring for us. RNs and other healthcare professionals, no matter how steeled against the daily stresses of their job, nonetheless bear the burdens of care, of comforting the afflicted, and of coping with sorrow when a patient under their care succumbs to illness.
The caregiving professions are profoundly difficult jobs, taking an emotional and spiritual toll on the healthcare workforce. And hospital jobs are dangerous as well, as nurses and others face environmental risks, violent attacks from the public, and even harm from workplace cultures where supportive encouragement is replaced by demeaning behavior.
Massachusetts hospitals have for years engaged in “culture of safety” initiatives to ensure that everyone in a hospital – from the Board of Trustees through maintenance personnel – are aligned in placing patient safety as the overriding mission-driven objective. Lagging behind that patient-centered focus has been a community-wide recognition that the wellbeing of the healthcare workforce is equally important. But good healthcare leaders recognize that caring for the caregiver will, in turn, strengthen patient care. Empowering workers and supporting their emotional, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and even financial health are necessary steps to allow the healthcare workforce perform their mission to the best of their abilities.
Over the past year, MHA has worked with its membership across the commonwealth to address issues of workplace safety and wellbeing.
MHA’s Workplace Safety and Violence Prevention Workgroup is focused on developing and disseminating workplace safety program best practices, and the MHA Statewide Quality Forum is devising and implementing a statewide educational strategy for alleviating violence in the healthcare workplace. The Massachusetts Medical Society-MHA Joint Task Force on Physician Burnout will advocate for statewide adoption of identified strategies and practices to alleviate this common problem.
And now the MHA Promoting Employee Wellbeing Committee will soon unveil a webpage that will allow hospitals to share best practices about how they are working with frontline clinical caregivers and all hospital staff to improve and enhance their current work environment and wellbeing, including reducing violence in the workplace.
The goal of this new “Caring for the Caregiver” initiative is to acknowledge the valued contributions of hospital staff and support them with resources to enhance the safety of their work environment and well-being.
The quantifiable elements involved in helping hospitals support their workforce’s wellbeing involve coordinated surveys of best practices, focus groups, shared data, educational programs, and more. But the less concrete, yet even more valuable element, involves creating a work environment of mutual respect to allow workers to find joy and fulfillment in the honorable work they do.
This week allows us to express what is, or should be, expressed each day – gratitude for our nurses and the whole hospital care team.