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Study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers

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Study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has encompassed nearly every aspect of society and daily life since March 2020. In the summer of 2022, Anthony Jimenez, an assistant professor in RIT’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a trained medical sociologist, began researching specific impacts that regional health professionals are facing. So far, despite initial assumptions, his findings have focused less on personal struggles and more on the impact of systemic failures.

Jimenez’s research, “Providing Health Care Amidst COVID-19 in Rochester, New York,” analyzes the lived experiences of regional health care workers with a particular focus on health care safety net practitioners that provide services to marginalized populations with at least stable sources of funding. By collecting interviews from medical practitioners, he is able to capture first-person accounts of what doctors, nurses, home health care providers and other medical personnel have faced during the ongoing pandemic.

“Much of my work previously focused on health care disparities, particularly among undocumented immigrants. I am trying to do research that examines the experience of health disparities of marginalized individuals along different axes of power such as race, gender, class, and legal status,” Jimenez said. “This project is a continuation of that work and kind of a stepping stone to what I hope will be my next project looking at the impact of the pandemic on patients.”

Although he initially set out to uncover the personal impact on the health and well-being of these practitioners, Jimenez felt he needed to dig deeper into the thread of shared grievances once he began the interview process.

“It seems what health practitioners want to talk about the most are their criticisms of the health care system. Then they get fired up and become especially passionate and eager to share their thoughts. So now I’m really looking at the questions of what they think about the health care system, how they would change it and what their criticisms are,” Jimenez said. “If we have to imagine and create some alternative, who better to articulate what’s needed than the health practitioners who are doing this on the ground, working day in and day out.”

While the research is still ongoing, Jimenez shared two preliminary, interrelated struggles that most of the interviewees expressed: feeling unsupported and struggling with moral injuries in the workplace.

According to Jimenez, several of his interview subjects shared that they were starved for human support due to staff shortages and had to treat the same amount of patients or more with fewer staff members. As a result, employees are often emotionally and physically stressed and pushed to the limit, making the concept of moral injury even more unmanageable.

“An example of moral harm is when a practitioner wants to do what is good but is unable to do so for a number of reasons, often bureaucracy or politics. From what I’ve heard from the medical practitioners I’ve spoken to so far, this sense of moral trauma is growing more and more because as a system the health care safety net and other health care providers are strained for resources and support — and these issues were exacerbated by the pandemic. They have taken a vow to do no harm, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do any good.

Jimenez will continue interviewing regional doctors in 2023 and plans to publish his findings later this year. He expressed his hope that the first-person accounts gathered through this research will spark a change in both policy and public attitudes toward healthcare workers.

“I would like to see social and cultural recognition among ordinary people for this work and why it is important. I think that’s how we begin to collectively, at a societal level, imagine what change looks like,” Jimenez said. “Change is possible, but it requires creativity, imagination and courage, which we are all capable of.”

Jimenez is actively recruiting health care practitioners from the Rochester area who are interested in sharing their stories for the project. Those interested are invited to contact him at [email protected] or 585-475-4768.

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