The pandemic has had a significant impact on the U.S. healthcare system, bringing to light the severe workforce shortage that existed before the crisis. Long COVID, the condition characterized by lingering physical and mental symptoms that can last for over a year, has exacerbated the workforce shortage and is disproportionately impacting healthcare workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the system has lost 20% of its workforce over the course of the pandemic and hospitals are turning to training programs, traveling nurses, and emergency room staffing services to keep up with the demand.
Research suggests long COVID is hitting the health care system particularly hard. In New York, nearly 20% of long COVID patients are still out of work after a year, with high numbers among health care workers, according to a new study of workers compensation claims. A 2022 survey by the National Nursing Association found that 2% of nurses have not returned work after developing COVID-19. In the United Kingdom, long COVID symptoms impact the lives of 1.5 million people, according to the Office of National Statistics.
Hospitals are making efforts to support existing staff who may be suffering from burnout and fatigue – and now, long COVID. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is providing employees with access to the company’s existing disability programs and building more remote work into their system. Those who were infected on the job can also seek workers' compensation, though coverage varies from employer to employer and state to state.
The federal government, states, and health care systems have programs to address the shortage, but a clear solution to the workforce shortage has yet to be found. In the meantime, healthcare workers are pushing through their symptoms to do their jobs, and hospitals are managing the best they can. As research connects long COVID and ME/CFS to other infections, it is important for managers to talk openly with their employees and show understanding if they are taking more time to recover from an illness.