Coronavirus battle is ‘recipe’ for disaster for health care workers: experts

The recent suicides of a top city ER doctor and EMT could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the mental-health fallout among health care workers battling the coronavirus, experts told The Post.

The pandemic is ”quite different from other major disasters like [Hurricane] Katrina and 9/11,’’ said Amanda Fialk, chief of clinical services at The Dorm, a mental-health-treatment organization, in Brooklyn.

“There’s so much uncertainty, and there’s no endpoint — that uncertainty makes it more traumatic, especially for healthcare workers.

“The sheer number of cases they’re seeing on a day-to-day basis, the lack of [personal protective equipment], [other] equipment shortages … they are making life-and-death decisions for their patients, themselves and even their own family and loved ones,” she said.

All this sets up a “recipe for creating PTSD reaction or disorder.’’

A study of Chinese hospital workers found that the pandemic has already taken a heavy toll on health care employees there.


Half of the 1,257 respondents reported symptoms of depression, 45 percent anxiety and 71 percent general distress, according to the report by the peer-viewed medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Female healthcare workers were among those particularly prone to problems, the study found.

“Nurses, women, front-line healthcare workers and those working in Wuhan, China, reported more severe degrees of all measurements of mental-health symptoms than other healthcare workers,” the study said.

“Special interventions to promote mental well-being in healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19 need to be immediately implemented, with women, nurses and frontline workers requiring particular attention.”

Top Manhattan ER Dr. Lorna Breen killed herself Sunday after spending weeks at the front lines of the battle against the virus, a tragedy that family and friends said was brought on by stress over the pandemic.

Rookie Bronx EMT John Mondello fatally shot himself two days earlier, after having talked to a pal about going straight from the academy to the exhausting grind of the coronavirus battle.

Debra Kaysen, a psychology professor at Stanford University and head of the independent International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, warned that mental-health issues among coronavirus healthcare workers will only get worse.

“Do I think there will be a higher level of PTSD a year from now? I do,’’ she told The Post.

But she emphasized that there is effective treatment through counseling and medication, including anti-depressants.

“It doesn’t have to be a life condition,” Kaysen said.

Dr. Daniel Finch, director of psychiatric urgent-care services at CarePlus NJ, a mental-health-oriented non-profit, agreed that “we are going to see a deluge of mental-health issues across all [coronavirus medical] helpers, like 9/11.

“The effect doesn’t come immediately after the crisis but years after,” he said. “Right now, doctors, nurses, EMS, firefighters, cops — everyone is in survival mode both for themselves and their patients.”

Fialk said health care workers on the front lines need to “take 5-minute breaks in their day, enough time in the day to eat.

“Hospitals need to do more training for self-care techniques,” she said.

Healthcare workers tend to believe it’s a “badge of honor not going to sleep or having a social life,” she said.

“Is that really healthy?”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255.



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