Harassment of Healthcare Workers More Than Doubled in 4 Years

The increase in harassment appears to have led to more healthcare workers wanting to leave their jobs, resulting in more patient complaints.

Harassment of Healthcare Workers More Than Doubled in 4 Years

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More than double the number of healthcare workers reported harassment at work in 2022 than in 2018, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 13% reported threats, bullying, verbal abuse, or other hostile actions from patients and coworkers last year, compared to 6% in 2018.

The increased harassment has important implications for U.S. healthcare employee mental health. From 2018 to 2022, these workers experienced greater mental health declines than other workers.

Although employee burnout in healthcare was at a crisis level before the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic may have further impaired healthcare worker mental health and increased employees’ desire to leave their jobs.

Of the workers that did experience harassment, 85% reported feelings of anxiety, compared to 53% of workers who didn’t experience harassment. Six in 10 (60%) employees who were harassed reported feelings of depression, compared to 31% of employees who weren’t harassed. More than eight in 10 (81%) who were harassed are burned out, compared to 42% who were not harassed.

Additionally, the American Medical Association (AMA) has found that doctor burnout is at an all time high: 63%.

The increased mental health challenges of healthcare workers appears to be having a significant impact on patients’ ability to find timely treatment. According to a recent study by Kaufman Hall of hospitals, health systems, and medical groups, 63% said they are struggling to meet patient demand. Nearly a third (32%) said patient concerns or complaints have increased.

The CDC offered the following recommendations to address the mental health crisis in healthcare workers:

  • To promote worker well-being, employers can modify working conditions and change aspects of the organizational structure that are associated with poor mental health. This study suggests such changes could include allowing health workers to participate in decision-making, building trust in management, providing supervisor assistance and enough time to complete work, and preventing and paying attention to harassment reports.
  • Employers can learn more about health workers and mental health through NIOSH’s Health Worker Mental Health Initiative, and about mental health in general. Visit the NIOSH Total Worker Health® Program and the Healthy Work Design and Well-Being Program to learn more about how work conditions and work design impact worker well-being.
  • Supervisors and workers can discuss ways to improve working conditions. For both supervisors and employees, NIOSH has training and resources for health workers on stress, fatigue, burnout, substance use, and suicide.
  • The general public can support health workers by expressing appreciation for their essential work and treating them with understanding and respect.

If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. 988 connects you with a trained crisis counselor who can help.

If you or someone you know needs assistance (in English or Spanish) with mental health concerns and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery, please contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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