What's Driving Turnover in Health Care During COVID-19?

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Bianca K. Frogner, PhD, discusses the prevalence of burnout and job dissatisfaction observed across various health care worker roles and settings.

A cross-sectional analysis from earlier this month showed disparate burdens in health care work force turnover based on provider role or setting in the US since the beginning of COVID-19.

The findings, reported by Bianca K. Frogner, PhD, of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and colleagues, showed factors including role as a health care assistant/aide, female workers, Asian-American ethnicity, and working in an ambulatory setting were associated with increased rates of turnover since the pandemic’s start in 2020.

While the data showed the unique impacts of COVID-19 on health care workforce retention and stability, they also underlie brewing issues of burnout and unmet workers’ needs in health care—subjects which have been prevalent long before the pandemic, investigators stressed.

In an interview with HCPLive, Frogner discussed some of the most surprising findings from her team’s research—including the continued increase in turnover rates among long-term care facility workers through even 2021.

“While we have known there’s been job loss in long-term care, I think our paper helped to established where they started from before the pandemic, relative to other settings,” Frogner said. “And we found there was already high turnover in this field…we’re talking a two- to three-fold higher level of turnover in long-term care relative to the other settings, that has just continued to go upward.”

Frogner also addressed how the findings depict COVID-19 as a factor in US health care turnover rates—whether it was a catalyst, just another exacerbation, or a bit of both.

“I think that the pandemic has definitely made things harder and worse for what’s happening in health care, but it is a thing that was happening before the pandemic,” Frogner said. “There has been this discussion among health care workers, from physicians all the way down to aides and assistants, that there’s a sense of burnout and people are not happy at their jobs.”

Lastly, Frogner discussed the particularly high rate of turnover among particular women in health care—a population which constitutes approximately two-thirds of the entire work force yet continues to struggle with pre-pandemic issues including time and resources dedicated toward childcare.

“The fact that we’re seeing high turnover rates among women is particularly going to be felt in these sectors where we rely very heavily on women as being part of that labor force,” Frogner said. “If we do not address the challenges that they’re facing, these jobs are going to be even harder to fill long-term.”