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September 4, 2019

Responding to Burnout

Working Well, a program that helps employers develop a strategic plan to impact employee health by focusing on evidence-based policy, systems, and environmental changes, was recently awarded a grant from The Duke Endowment to incorporate an integrated, multi-layered approach to reducing burnout and improving worker wellbeing.

At a time when over half of the current healthcare workforce reports high burnout rates and low rates of job satisfaction in the country, this new effort will be one of the first to take a comprehensive, system-level approach that is necessary to make an effective difference in the lives of South Carolina’s hospital workers.

Jen Wright, the program director for Working Well who will spearhead the new initiative, which will be called Thriving Workforce, likens their approach to how statewide collective action in recent years has made tremendous strides on quality improvement initiatives in our hospitals. She cites Safe Surgery SC, an effort which oversaw a 22 percent reduction in post-surgical deaths, as a model for their efforts.

“Pockets of work are being done to address burnout, primarily targeting stress and personal resilience, but there’s been really limited efficacy thus far,” she explains. “A comprehensive, coordinated, strategic, statewide effort that encompasses organizational culture and workflow efficiencies, along with personal resilience, is necessary to truly impact the industry.”

“Our approach is unique and innovative as it coordinates and elevates efforts that are currently siloed within and across our membership to establish a critical mass among the industry to improve the healthcare system, healthcare workforce, and patient care.”

Working Well will collaborate, integrate, and align efforts with vital partners throughout the state that are also working to address this issue and  recognize the need for this comprehensive approach.

“Partnering with the SCHA’s Thriving Workforce team advances all of our efforts to build resilient organizations throughout our state and beyond,” says Rachel Brown, Medical Director of Health and Wellness at the Prisma Health Midlands Affiliate. “[It] encourages regional unity and support in addressing the crisis of healthcare worker burnout and its impact.”

“We believe that in order for us to achieve our mission to preserve and optimize human life in South Carolina and beyond, we must focus on the health of our own workforce,” agrees Dr. Susan L. Johnson, an Assistant Professor and Director of Health Promotion at MUSC. “With the generous support from the Duke Endowment, healthcare providers in SC and beyond will soon have much-needed resources and support to create a culture of wellbeing to combat burnout and distress in the workplace.”

The financial implications of turning things around could be profound. The cost associated with losing an RN in the workforce is $82,000-$88,000, while the replacement cost for a physician can be upwards of $1 million. That’s to say nothing of the impact on communities with large number of healthcare workers, or to the effects on access and quality of care that healthcare worker burnout has, particularly in rural communities.

The initiative will also stretch beyond South Carolina, with partners like the Oklahoma Hospital Association eager to take part.

“With Oklahoma’s poor overall health outcomes combined with the current financial pressures facing Oklahoma hospitals, creates an environment in which a healthy and thriving workforce is as important as ever,” states Sydney Tomlinson, a Health Improvement Initiatives Specialist at the Oklahoma Hospital Association. “These tools will be used to ensure Oklahoma hospitals create an environment where employee wellbeing is a priority in delivering high-quality patient care.”

Working Well will be integrating this work into their larger worker wellbeing framework and use a set of rigorous metrics and benchmarks to assess their efforts, including everything from quantitative outcome metrics like the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Stanford Professional Fulfillment Index as well as traditional industry benchmarks like clinician turnover and job satisfaction scores.

“A professional workforce with low burnout and high professional fulfillment is vital to providing the best care to patients,” Wright concludes. “High professional fulfillment, rather than just burnout mitigation, should be the goal for any wellbeing program.”