Fedweek

An inspector general report has said that many VA medical personnel feel they are not getting the support they need as they deal with the stresses of the pandemic, even though the department has provided some additional help.

The IG said the Veterans Health Administration provided additional support services, such as counseling and resources for physical and emotional self-care, through a number of channels starting soon after the pandemic began in early 2020. However, a survey it conducted last November found that awareness of those programs varied from as high as 91 percent among facility leaders to as low as 40 percent among clinical staff.

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It added that 38 percent of clinical staff and 31 percent of non-clinical staff said their leaders were not responsive to concerns they expressed related to the pandemic; some also said they had concerns but didn’t express them out of fear of retaliation or a belief that nothing would be done. “Additionally, 51 percent of clinical staff respondents and 41 percent of non-clinical staff respondents expressed that they did not feel adequately emotionally supported during the pandemic,” the report said.

It noted that a report by the VHA late in 2021 found that frontline staff “exhibited a diminished capacity to deal with the stresses and demands of the work environment” and that “in some instances, stress manifested in interpersonal challenges and conflict.” And in an employee survey conducted around the same time, 19 percent of VHA staff reported experiencing “moderate burnout,” an increase over prior years, and 25 percent reported “high” and “extreme” levels of stress related to the pandemic—with one result being an increase in retirements and other turnover.

The findings mirror those of a recent similar report from the IG at the Defense Department, which said that medical staff—both civilian and uniformed—at military treatment facilities commonly reported burnout and fatigue due to the demands of the pandemic, with increased turnover also a result there.

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