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Nearly half of all health workers want to quit. A campaign aims to reverse that

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Nearly half of all health workers want to leave their job. A new federal campaign, though, is trying to reverse that. Here's NPR's Will Stone.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Corey Feist is a health care executive himself, so he knows the blind spots in his industry, especially among those in charge.

COREY FEIST: It has not been the first line of thought as health care leaders to think about workforce.

STONE: Feist is co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, named after his sister-in-law, an emergency physician from New York City who died by suicide during the pandemic. This new campaign with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funded by a law bearing Breen's name. It aims to get hospital leaders to change the policies and cultures that drive burnout and mental health problems.

FEIST: Not only is the workforce really struggling with their mental health, they're uniquely, in many cases, penalized for obtaining the same care that they prescribe to their patients.

STONE: This is why their first goal is to have hospitals remove questions about mental health that are part of the credentialing process.

FEIST: We need to get rid of those questions and remove all those barriers.

STONE: The campaign also gives hospital leaders resources to assess the well-being of their workforce and encourages them to talk openly about their own mental health. Dr. John Howard directs the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. As they put together the campaign, he says they asked front-line health care workers for feedback about the focus.

JOHN HOWARD: The workers said, you know, really, we're not into personal resilience anymore. We've done that. And having been a health care worker for many years, I've done all those trainings.

STONE: That's why they're looking at how those in leadership can change the work environment.

HOWARD: It's really the beginnings of a policy initiative.

STONE: So how big of a difference can this make? Bryan Sexton at Duke University says this campaign is one incremental but important step.

BRYAN SEXTON: There's not one piece of legislation, there's not one thing that the CDC is going to do. It's going to need to be a variety of things tailored to the needs of an individual work setting.

STONE: Workload is a big contributor to burnout - time spent dealing with administrative work, electronic health records, insurance instead of patients. Zenei Triunfo-Cortez is president of the union National Nurses United. She's disappointed with the initiative.

ZENEI TRIUNFO-CORTEZ: They need to address the systemic issues that are really the causes of high rates of moral distress, driving nurses away from the bedside.

STONE: Like improving staffing or preventing workplace violence. But those running the campaign say it's just the beginning of a broader effort.

Will Stone, NPR News.

MARTÍNEZ: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline - just those three digits, 988. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Will Stone