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ICU Providers Experiencing Rising Stress Levels, Survey Shows

Intensive care units (ICUs) throughout the United States have been extremely busy caring for patients infected with COVID-19. A new survey, published in the Society for Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), reveals that providers are dealing with significantly high levels of stress related to COVID-19. Specifically, providers are worried about infecting family members and have continued concerns regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing shortages.

What does the research show?

The researchers surveyed members of four professional organizations — the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society and SCCM — in order to capture information on the evolving pandemic and how it relates to care in the ICU. The survey included questions related to stress and personal concerns.

A total of 9,492 clinicians responded to the survey, with ICU nurses comprising the majority. Other respondents included physicians, advanced practice providers, respiratory therapists and pharmacists. 88 percent of the respondents reported that they have cared for a patient with either presumed or confirmed COVID-19 infection, while more than half resided in states with 20,000 or more COVID-19 cases.

On a scale of zero to 10, respondents reported that their levels of personal stress rose from a median of three prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to a current level eight for personal exposure. Stress levels rose even further to level 10 when asked about exposing family members. Concerns over personal exposure or exposing a family member were highest among those located in states with 20,000 cases or more.

Most of the respondents reported taking measures to limit the potential spread of the virus to their family members, including:

  • Changing clothes before/after work (72 percent)
  • Showering before interacting with family (64 percent)
  • Limiting contact until after they’ve taken measures (57 percent)
  • Using hand sanitizer before entering their home (51 percent)
  • Self-isolating within their homes (16 percent)
  • Staying in alternative housing away from their families (12 percent)

According to SCCM, other top critical needs for ICUs to manage the pandemic include ICU staffing, laboratory turnaround time for COVID-19 testing and keeping up with information on management strategies.

What can providers do?

For ICU providers, burnout was already a substantial issue. But the pandemic is adding a new type of emotional burden to the pre-existing problems driving burnout. For providers feeling overwhelmed, here’s a list of mental health resources available specifically for clinicians during this time:


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