First responders continue to play a critical role in managing COVID-19 cases across the United States. Various elements are likely to contribute to the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the staff dedicated to saving people’s lives. First, the scale of the illness in terms of countries affected and the number of people infected has created the impression that nobody is safe (De Kock et al. 2). In addition, media reports tend to focus on the number of healthcare workers who have lost their lives to the illness and the rate of spread within healthcare institutions which amplifies the burden on first responders. While the strain on health systems occasioned by the current crisis is evident, it could worsen if first responders’ mental and physical challenges are not effectively addressed.
Impact on First Responder Wellbeing
The magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis has negatively impacted first responders’ efficiency and health. It is worth noting that staffing shortages have led to the redeployment of employees to high-risk areas to address the increasing influx of affected individuals. There are serious concerns about how these professionals should deal with emergency calls while avoiding transmission between patients. The Emergency Medical Service teams need to handle cases cautiously, given that only 43.8% of infected patients present with fever (Ehrlich et al. 213). The global shortage of protective equipment, N-95 respirators, gloves, and face shields is an additional challenge. It is worth noting that these shortages create role strain as first responders struggle to choose between personal safety and their duty to patients (Ehrlich et al. 213). In addition, it exposes personnel to infection, which sometimes leads to the loss of life.
The Mental Health Impact
Frontline workers have experienced significant mental health challenges associated with COVID-19. Occupational factors are a significant contributor to the deteriorating well-being of healthcare workers. For instance, medical healthcare workers reported elevated levels of insomnia, anxiety, somatization, and depression, as indicated by a study in China where medical staff had significantly higher levels of anxiety than administrative personnel (De Kock et al. 5). Direct contact with infected patients leads to elevated levels of psychological distress. Studies conducted in Wuhan province demonstrate that frontline workers experienced more severe depression and anxiety compared to the general population (De Kock et al. 11). The severity of mental health challenges associated with handling infected individuals is a matter of grave concern.
Concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) significantly impacted first responders’ well-being. However, in instances where PPE was available, frontline personnel felt at ease. However, in scenarios where supply was problematic, there was a significant rise in stress levels. Physical health and safety are primary concerns for most individuals who put their lives at risk to save people in need. The constant rise in the number of infections has increased the workload for individuals working to stop the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, many professionals in the field are struggling with burnout as more countries attempt to manage the pandemic.
There are a variety of psychosocial factors that determine the severity of the pandemic’s impact on first responders. These include the fear of infection and concerns about family. A majority of individuals were worried about transmitting the illness to their loved ones. This is a serious issue considering that healthcare workers accounted for approximately 24% of all COVID-19 cases in Spain (Rodríguez-Rey et al. 18). A Chinese survey indicated that young professionals had higher incidences of depression and anxiety compared to their older counterparts (De Kock et al. 11). In addition, first responders with underlying illnesses were apprehensive about contacting individuals infected with the virus.
There are several factors that protected first responders from the adverse effects associated with managing COVID-19 cases. First, previous experience with public health emergencies was associated with low incidences of adverse mental health outcomes. In addition, adequate training imparted confidence and alleviated psychological stress (De Kock et al. 12). The availability of adequate PPE was also associated with decreased anxiety and depression among healthcare professionals tasked with offering services to infected patients. Environmental factors such as support and recognition from the healthcare team, community, and the government were associated with decreased adverse health outcomes in the field.
Reducing the burden of COVID-19 on first responders should be every government’s top priority. The United States should create guidelines that schedule frequent breaks for frontline employees and work on improving workflow. In addition, all efforts should be directed toward the provision of PPE to alleviate infection-related fears. It is critical to provide training on emotional coping techniques to ensure that every individual is adequately prepared for the mental strain associated with caring for critically ill patients. The health department should provide easy access to mental health services for individuals who feel overwhelmed by the challenges they face at work. Developing a national network designed to offer psychological support and crisis intervention services should be prioritized. Human resource departments in various health institutions need to implement programs tailored to meet first responders’ needs and offer preventive services to ensure adverse mental health outcomes are avoided.
Emergency response teams should focus on reducing the number of professionals required to care for patients effectively. This facilitates the reduction of risk and the amount of protective equipment used in the healthcare setting. It is critical to designate specific triage centers next to healthcare facilities to ensure quick testing while limiting possible routes of transmission to first responders. It is pertinent that emergency response teams use data to track areas with high rates of transmission to ensure that personnel sent to the region are adequately protected from infection.
Telemedicine services should be implemented since they limit contact with infected patients in areas facing emergency response staff shortages. Patients are advised on where to seek help with regard to COVID-19 symptoms, thus reducing the patient burden. The use of portable decontamination systems is critical since it reduces the chances of infection. Instituting a protection program that screens employees before each shift facilitates check-inns for individuals that are sick and offers rapid testing for staff with symptoms is essential. Various emergency response departments should implement a system that offers housing options for infected staff and outlines the steps to take when returning to work. Ensuring that emergency response personnel and their families are protected from infection is critical to the successful elimination of the COVID-19 pandemic.
First responders are a critical determinant of the healthcare system’s ability to handle the COVID-19 pandemic effectively. These professionals have been adversely affected by the increased workload and the risk of infection. Most are forced to choose between personal safety and their duty to patients in need. It is crucial that the U.S. government takes these issues into consideration when creating policies aimed at ensuring that healthcare workers are protected from the adverse effects linked to the current crisis. These individuals are essential contributors to the country’s efforts to effectively eradicate the pandemic.
De Kock, Johannes H., et al. “A Rapid Review of the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Healthcare Workers: Implications for Supporting Psychological Well-Being.” BMC Public Health, vol. 21, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1–18.
Ehrlich, Haley, et al. “Defending the Front Lines during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Protecting Our First Responders and Emergency Medical Service Personnel.” American Journal of Emergency Medicine, vol. 40, 2021, pp. 213–14.
Rodríguez-Rey, Rocío, et al. “Working in the Times of Covid-19: Psychological Impact of the Pandemic in Frontline Workers in Spain.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 21, 2020, pp. 1–23.