Combatting ‘moral injuries’

Largely hidden from view, the health-care sector is facing unprecedented physical and mental challenges amid the pandemic

Combatting ‘moral injuries’

Much of our coverage of late has covered the massive transformation of workplaces as thousands of professionals ended up working from home or were laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And then of course there’s been attention given to the various physical changes made to retail and hospitality environments.

We’ve relayed the results of surveys looking at the challenges around remote work, mental health and on-site safety, along with employment law considerations.

But not enough attention has been paid to the healthcare sector, the people who are truly on the front lines when it comes to combatting this unprecedented threat. Maybe that’s because it’s such a niche segment that is working behind the scenes, hidden from the rest of us during the pandemic.

But a new guide meant to help these professionals lays out the importance of providing them with support now to prevent worsening problems later.

“Moral injury” is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Patrick Smith, president and CEO of the Centre of Excellence PTSD and Related Mental Health Concerns at the Royal Hospital in Ottawa.

“It’s the after-effect of a number of moral stresses and dilemmas [that], left unchecked, can develop into moral injury which is debilitating, like PTSD: It needs clinical services. That area of research really comes from the military and veteran world.” 

When treating COVID patients, healthcare workers can face issues that can bring on moral injury such as: discharging young mothers early due to infection risk, constantly wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) which can make it difficult to communicate with elderly and immigrant patients, and working long hours and avoiding family, he says.

Aside from the considerable risks being taken by these workers when it comes to their physical health, the moral side of things is a whole other issue I hadn’t really considered. The burden placed on healthcare workers making such difficult decisions, in such a stressful situation, while trying to keep everyone safe is hard to contemplate.

Most definitely, this sector is in the greatest need of support so that they too can emerge from this very difficult time like the rest of us – healthy and productive in our personal and professional.

Be sure to watch for an exclusive column taking a behind-the-scenes-look at the HR and the healthcare sector from Tony Bennett of Alberta Health Services in the October issue of Canadian HR Reporter.

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