The greatest fears of Western Health clinical staff during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been uncovered by new research.
Contracting the virus, putting family members at risk and caring for infected patients were the top concerns of the almost 700 nurses, doctors and allied health workers surveyed.
The Deakin University Western Health Partnership research found COVID-19 had a considerable impact on the psychological wellbeing, work and personal lives of clinical staff.
More than 80 per cent of staff avoided interacting with their friends and extended family and steered clear of public or crowded spaces.
Three quarters indicated that people close to them were concerned about their health.
Almost one quarter of those surveyed avoided telling people they worked at a hospital. Several staff reported receiving a negative reaction when they wore their uniform in public.
Pregnant staff expressed heightened concern about the potential impact of COVID-19 on themselves and their baby.
Despite the strain on their personal and professional lives, the research published in the Australian Health Review, found few staff considered resigning.
Many staff reported positive aspects of the pandemic, co-investigator on the study and Senior Research Fellow Dr Sara Holton said.
“This included increased knowledge about infectious diseases and infection prevention and control, and a greater sense of togetherness and cooperation among colleagues," she said.
Dr Holton and co-investigators Western Health Chair in Nursing Professor Bodil Rasmussen and Senior Research Fellow Dr Karen Wynter are conducting research to help Western Health understand the impact of COVID-19 on staff.
The first survey was conducted between May and June 2020 when there were more than 1500 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria.
It found healthcare workers had professional challenges using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ranging from headaches to dehydration, and found it difficult when they were deployed to different roles.
Staff also identified difficulties managing their paid work and family responsibilities during the pandemic, including supporting children with remote learning.
An earlier research paper by the team found that during same time period around one quarter of staff surveyed reported symptoms of psychological distress, including depression, anxiety and stress.
Distress was higher in nurses, midwives, staff who had contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 and those who had less clinical experience.
Dr Holton said one of the study’s most significant findings was that staff who thought the health service had responded appropriately to the pandemic and provided sufficient staff support, were more likely to have better mental health outcomes.
Western Health introduced a range of initiatives to support staff in 2020, such as: wellness hubs, on-site counsellors, regular staff bulletins and CEO briefings.
Researchers are evaluating these to see if they are meeting staff needs.
“Our study demonstrates the importance of providing targeted well-being and support initiatives, especially to those who are pregnant, so they continue to provide high quality patient care for the community,” Dr Holton said.