The Psychological Impact of COVID-19 on Hospital Staff

West J Emerg Med. 2021 Feb 8;22(2):346-352. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2020.11.49015.


Introduction: The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has created a mental health crisis among hospital staff who have been mentally and physically exhausted by uncertainty and unexpected stressors. However, the mental health challenges and complexities faced by hospital staff in the United States has not been fully elucidated. To address this gap, we conducted this study to examine the prevalence and correlates of depression and anxiety among hospital staff in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: The design is a single-center, cross-sectional, online survey evaluating depression and anxiety among all hospital employees (n = 3,500) at a safety-net hospital with a moderate cumulative COVID-19 hospitalization rate between April 30-May 22, 2020. We assessed depression with the Patient Health Questionnaire-9. Anxiety was measured with the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 scale. Logistic regression analyses were calculated to identify associations with depression and anxiety.

Results: Of 3,500 hospital employees, 1,246 (36%) responded to the survey. We included 1,232 individuals in the final analysis. Overall, psychological distress was common among the respondents: 21% and 33% of staff reported significant depression and anxiety, respectively, while 46% experienced overwhelming stress due to COVID-19. Notably, staff members overwhelmed by the stress of COVID-19 were seven and nine times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, respectively. In addition to stress, individuals with six to nine years of work experience were two times more likely to report moderate or severe depression compared to those with 10 or more years of work experience. Moreover, ancillary staff with direct patient contact (odds ratio [OR] 8.9, confidence interval (CI), 1.46, 173.03) as well as administrative and ancillary staff with indirect patient contact (OR 5.9, CI, 1.06, 111.01) were more likely to be depressed than physicians and advanced providers.

Conclusion: We found that a considerable proportion of staff were suffering from psychological distress. COVID-19-associated depression and anxiety was widespread among hospital staff even in settings with comparatively lower COVID-19 hospitalization rates. Ancillary staff, administrative staff, staff with less job experience, and staff overwhelmed by the stress of COVID-19 are particularly susceptible to negative mental health outcomes. These findings will help inform hospital policymakers on best practices to develop interventions to reduce the mental health burden associated with COVID-19 in vulnerable hospital staff.