As the health care workforce becomes increasingly critical to the health systems, protection of health care workers is vital to maintaining the services they provide. By protecting HCWs from contracting COVID-19 through their work, the number of staff that is forced to remain at home and reduce the risk of transmission to vulnerable patients are both increased. Because of their close contact with COVID-19-positive patients, HCWs are more at risk of virus transmission than the general community.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented burden on the world’s health systems. In addition to the immediate need to adapt existing infrastructures, protection of health care workers is essential. Health care workers are frontline responders and, as such, they take significant risks for the patients’ health. Occupational safety regulations must be implemented to protect these workers. This study has identified areas of best practice, policy, and preparedness measures in various countries.
In addition to providing effective protection, this initiative also requires a strong commitment to reducing the cost of protecting health care workers. While implementing basic standards and providing psychological support can be costly, a better investment in front-line defense will save millions of lives during epidemics. In addition, implementing policies that disengage the general public from health care and social services will have a dramatic effect on the lives and well-being of health care workers.
In addition to addressing workplace violence, the Government of Canada has introduced amendments to the Criminal Code. The new laws will enhance protection for health care workers and ensure the safety of patients. Violence has long plagued health care workers, but recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have added to the stress. Meanwhile, high profile public demonstrations have disrupted access to health care facilities. With these new laws, employers are now better prepared to protect health care workers from the dangers of the workplace.
Although recent studies have shown that surgical masks provide equivalent protection to N95 respirators, these studies are not necessarily applicable to all circumstances. For example, the patient population and care processes that HCWs encounter can vary dramatically. In addition, it may be more prudent to stockpile emergency equipment for different types of incidents. Leaders also need to evaluate the effectiveness of their hazard prevention strategy. There is no substitute for proper training and awareness.
Aside from a new mitigation standard, HCWs need effective screening measures for PTSD. Mobile screening apps can be a valuable tool. They can be used by large numbers of HCWs at one time. The VA’s PTSD Coach app is a good example of a mobile screening tool. In the future, the VA National Center for PTSD should develop an app-based tool that will identify and screen high-risk HCWs and provide appropriate behavioral health care providers.
Among frontline health care workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and allied staff are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection. As a result, they must ensure proper management of COVID patients as well as non-COVID patients. To protect frontline workers, PPE is critical. Protective equipment includes gloves, medical masks, face shields, gowns, and respirators. The PPE policies should be updated to incorporate new developments, such as COVID-19 information, and increase the speed of innovation.