Harris, surgeon general warn of health care worker burnout

WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a warning Monday about burnout among the nation’s health care staff after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the potential for severe worker shortages in the years ahead if the situation is not addressed.

“You do so much to take care of your patients in their time of need,” Harris told health care workers as she visited Children’s National Hospital in Washington with Murthy on Monday. “Which is why I’m here to say, we need to do a better job of taking care of you.”

Murthy issued a new report sounding the alarm over a projected shortage of 3 million “essential low-wage health workers” in the next five years, and nearly 140,000 doctors by 2033.

“People are really struggling,” Murthy said. “After two years of COVID-19 and more than 1 million precious lives lost, the people we all turn to to keep us safe, to comfort us and help us heal, they have been pushed to their limits.”

The administration is calling for new investments and steps to protect the mental wellbeing of health care workers; that includes expanding counseling offerings, reducing administrative burdens and promoting worker safety on the job.

Unless changes are made, Murthy said, the country will be less prepared for future public health emergencies and “we will send a message to millions of healthcare workers that their suffering does not matter.”

The initiative comes as the Biden administration is mounting a nationwide push to address mental health issues. President Joe Biden unveiled a national strategy to expand mental health and drug abuse treatment during his State of the Union address in March.