High levels of stress in community health workers: study

Wednesday, 01 March, 2023

High levels of stress in community health workers: study

High levels of stress and burnout exist in Victoria’s community health workers, according to a longitudinal study exploring the impact of COVID-19 on service staff’s occupational and personal lives.

The Victorian Healthcare Association (VHA) partnered with Deakin University to produce a new paper to outline the study — published in the Australian Journal of Primary Health. The study aimed to assess the immediate and longer-term psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 on community health service staff in Australia.

Victoria’s 81 community health services provide GP, dentistry and allied health services such as physiotherapy, drug and alcohol services and mental health services to thousands of Victorians.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, community health services provided respiratory clinics and testing sites, cared for COVID-19 patients in the community, and ensured vulnerable and hard-to-reach population groups received information about COVID-19, infection prevention, health care and support services.

The Deakin study, conducted via two anonymous online surveys for clinical and non-clinical staff, found that many community health service workers experienced psychological distress and burnout during the pandemic. Both surveys were carried out in 2021, with 681 respondents in March–April and 479 in September–October.

Research lead Dr Sara Holton said the longitudinal study was one of the first studies in Australia to investigate the impact of the ongoing pandemic on healthcare workers. The research found that, similar to hospital staff, community health service staff were concerned about their family’s health, but also had to rapidly adapt the way they delivered services.

“These challenges often had a negative impact on their wellbeing and an increasing proportion are considering leaving the sector,” Holton said. 

A significantly greater proportion of respondents indicated they were considering transitioning into another sector at the time of the second survey compared to the first (24.8% vs 18.7%). 

“While the pandemic highlighted the important work of community health service staff, our research suggests they need further support, including additional staffing and resources, greater managerial and IT assistance for remote working, and additional psychological support.

“Further, our findings suggest initiatives are needed to protect the wellbeing of community health service staff, support them to stay in their roles and enable them to continue to provide essential services for their clients.”

Image credit: iStock.com/LaylaBird

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