The impact of COVID-19 on Hawaii health workers has been highlighted

Hawaii Healthcare workers surveyed in 2020 were primarily concerned about catching COVID-19 at work and transmitting it to their families, according to a recently published University of Hawaii at the Mānoa Public Health Study. The survey was conducted between July and October 2020 by Anna D Davide and Amelia R Arechywho obtained their Bachelor of Arts in Public Health in December 2020 and May 2021 respectively.

“As essential workers on the front lines of a pandemic, healthcare workers are unable to shelter and treat patients on-site, often fail to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, leaving them highly exposed and vulnerable to infection are,” said Davide.

According to national statistics, 93% of healthcare workers experienced stress in 2020, and 76% of healthcare workers with children said they were concerned about exposing their families to COVID-19.

Davide added: “Nevertheless, we knew nothing about the impact of COVID-19 on the physical and emotional health of Hawaii Health care workers or like health care workers in Hawaii may have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic differently than people in less isolated geographic regions—this study worked to change that.”

The study also highlighted several insights into how the pandemic has impacted the local health community:

  • Solo practitioners in outpatient clinics reported greater financial challenges and greater difficulty in obtaining personal protective equipment than those in hospitals or group practices.
  • Almost all participants noted an increased use of telemedicine options for accessing healthcare.
  • Inequalities in access to telehealth services among kūpuna (elders) and underserved populations, including those with poor internet connectivity and low technological literacy.
  • Participants expressed concern that the new “forgiving” attitude in the workplace that has emerged from the pandemic would fade after the spread of COVID-19 subsided.
  • Additional mental health support and resources from employers are needed.

study methods

Data for the study was collected through qualitative interviews and demographic surveys. Davide and Arechy recruited two cohorts for the interview portion, consisting of 15 participants in cohort 1 (July–August) and 16 participants in cohort 2 (September–October), all aged between 18 and 60+ years. Seven themes were identified among participants through thematic analysis: 1) Emotional Impacts, 2) Physical Impacts, 3) Workplace Impacts, 4) Telemedicine and Patient Care, 5) Challenges in Private Practice, 6) Mental Health Resources, and 7) Regional setting.

The demographic surveys were self-reported and included 28 physicians and three registered nurses. Respondents were asked about their level of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic, their general well-being at the onset of the pandemic, and their level of concern at the time of the survey.

“I thought the most interesting finding was the increasing use of telemedicine by physicians and the perceived impact it would have in the future. It seems that the COVID-19 pandemic may have helped bring about a shift in medicine Hawaii by encouraging hospitals and clinics to offer virtual care and improve patient accessibility,” said Arechy.

“I was proud of Ms. Arechy and Ms. Davide’s decision to use their undergraduate graduate project to contribute to our understanding of the impact of the pandemic on healthcare. Your work is an excellent example of our students’ passion for public health,” he said Opal V. BuchthalAssistant Professor of Public Health.

Overall, the availability of personal protective equipment, good communication and leadership from employers, and new information on best practices against COVID-19 all contributed to healthcare workers’ sense of security. The results of the study contribute to a better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on health workers. Further research on the impact of COVID-19, particularly on caregivers in Hawaiiis recommended by the researchers.

Davide and Arechy’s co-authors on the paper also included Buchthal and Professor Joseph Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula and assistant professor Andrea H. Hermosura from the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

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