Digital Therapy

How a Digital Solution can Help with Anxieties around PPE Shortages

By: Janet Pun

Published | Aug 11, 2020

Employee having anxiety over PPE shortages

Public health officials have sent a warning to people to prepare for a period of challenge in our fight against COVID-19. 

Speaking at a Friday press conference, top doctor and Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, stated that the government is planning for a large resurgence of COVID-19 cases as our nation heads into the fall season. What fuels the resurgence is two major events occurring in the fall: kids returning to school and influenza season. 

The government is stockpiling personal protective equipment (PPE) to distribute to school divisions and vulnerable populations, although there isn’t enough for everyone. 

Healthcare organizations face tough decisions around where to secure a budget to stockpile their own PPE, as it’s critical for their workforce’s physical and mental health.

Mental Health Impacts of PPE Shortages

According to a study conducted by the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), approximately 60% of healthcare workers screened positive for high levels of anxiety, primarily due to shortages around PPEs.

How bad were the shortages? 

According to the OHCOW survey:

  • 18% of workers said all their PPE needs were met
  • 35% said more than half their needs were met
  • 38% said less than half their needs were met
  • 8% said none of their PPE needs were met

In anticipation of the fall season, policies to protect healthcare and education workers’ health and safety have rightfully focused on creating a secure, affordable supply of PPE and meeting other occupational safety needs. 

However, what’s missing from the conversation is a comprehensive strategy to combat another looming threat facing front-line healthcare workers and educators: the psychological and emotional impact of COVID-19.

Our data shows that the anxiety and stress levels in healthcare workers has skyrocketed  93% for workers, and 71% for educators. 

In the OHCOW survey, high anxiety levels were reported in:

  • 65% of workers reporting none of their PPE needs were met
  • 43% of workers reporting their PPE needs were met 

These alarming statistics are a haunting reminder to healthcare researchers that although PPE is critical to safeguarding workers’ physical health, what isn’t as apparent are the mental health impact of PPE shortages. The worst of the looming mental health pandemic is yet to come. Failure to address the stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD built up in educators and healthcare workers will lead to higher disability costs for our governments, workplaces, and broader communities. 

The Cost of Doing Nothing about Mental Health

It’s proven that employee mental health problems are detrimental to organizations. In the long-term, it directly impacts absenteeism, presenteeism, productivity, profit, and disability costs. The cost of doing nothing and ignoring barriers plaguing employee mental health is too great of a risk for any organization.

How bad is the cost?  

According to studies, disability costs due to mental health is a $100+ million problem facing healthcare leaders with a workforce of 20,000+, and a total $650 million problem for absent teachers. 

Current Mental Health Programs aren’t Enough

Due to the demand and supply of PPE, prices have soared, resulting in many healthcare and education organizations needing to redirect or secure an already limited budget to acquire PPEs and safeguard their workers’ physical health over their mental health. 

Before COVID-19, leaders at large organizations have relied on EAPs to deliver a suite of tools and resources to help maintain the health of their workforce, at scale and at low-cost. It continues to be heavily relied upon, especially during tough decisions around how to redistribute budgets to accommodate PPE. Understandably, organizations are looking to squeeze as much as they can out of their EAPs before venturing into other solutions. 

However, despite organizations working on getting the most out of their EAPs, there is one significant barrier impacting the ROI of assistance programs. EAPs are consistently under-utilized primarily due to the stigma surrounding them, confidentiality issues, limited sessions available, and wait times. 

EAPs aren’t actually a direct line to effective mental health support but a triaging service to help direct employees to the services they need. It would then be on the employee to reach out and access the resources themselves, which can be difficult for someone already hesitant to seek help or use an EAP. 

Employees fear that their personal information is not confidential despite promises by EAPs. They fear their manager will find out who uses the EAP programs, thus branding them. Most EAP utilization initiatives do not adequately address the impact of stigma, misconceptions around mental illness, or helping employees know what’s actually in their EAPs. 

This is why there is a need for more supplemental resources when it comes to mental health. 

The Rise of Digital Technology and Virtual Care

For most organizations, EAPs will remain an essential part of their organization’s health strategy. What will be important for leaders to consider is how to enhance their EAPs and remove its greatest barriers to employee mental health and wellbeing, especially when faced with budget limitations around PPE shortages and access.

Currently, digital technologies have been brought to the forefront to help organizations deliver immediate, effective, remote support for employees, at scale and on the same budget. 

There are several reasons why digital mental health programs should be a part of any organization’s health strategy:

  • High-Efficacy: Digital solutions are under constant scrutiny and expected to deliver results immediately, which is less of a case for traditional paths. As a result, digital mental health solutions like Starling Minds must be proven to work
  • Low Cost: A new digital platform is a cost-effective way to engage and support a diverse mix of employees that fall outside of an EAP. Adding 100% digital CBT is the least expensive way to make mental health treatment accessible to an entire workforce at scale as often EAPs and  iCBT programs have a teletherapy component, limiting the number of sessions
  • Simple & Non-disruptive: Rather than removing support already in place, adding a digital CBT program to your existing employee mental health services extends your reach to employees who aren’t using EAPs or generic free mental health programs and offerings
  • Higher Utilization-Rates: Digital platforms often have higher utilization rates due to the platforms’ ability to notify and remind employees to carry on with their treatment
  • Higher ROI: As a result of lower costs, accessibility, and higher utilization rates, organizations have a greater ROI with digital platforms like Starling Minds
  • Removes Greatest Barriers: Digital platforms also alleviate the top barriers impacting employees’ mental health: stigma, cost, access, and shortages, without compromising the quality of care delivered to employees

Last Thoughts

The current mental state of educators and healthcare workers is at an all-time low. Many are now experiencing the physiological impacts of their stress and anxiety due to COVID-19 and PPE shortages during the initial lockdown. 

Going into the fall season, educators will have the difficult task of enforcing physical distancing, mask-wearing, and handwashing practices, and healthcare workers will continue to be tested mentally, physically, and emotionally as a break is nowhere in sight for many of them. 

There’s no question that PPE will be the critical purchase to safeguard employees’ physical health, but what leaders need to think about next is how to protect employee wellbeing without jeopardizing the budget going to PPE. 

There are many employee mental health solutions out there, and it can be overwhelming to navigate.

Starling can help.

Our established solution will remove the greatest barriers impacting employee mental health, and help drive further value alongside your existing mental health programs. Everyone can benefit when your current mental health programs no longer have to ‘carry the day’ as the be-all and end-all solution.

Adding a 100% digital CBT program to your existing mental health program is a proven way to drive better mental health outcomes for your employees (especially those struggling at work), and improve business outcomes for your organization.

More and more organizations see it as the lifeline employees need in today’s busy workplace.

Making it happen is easier than you think.

Contact us today to learn if Starling Minds is the missing piece your employee health strategies needs. 

Janet Pun

Janet is an energetic and passionate lover of all things related to marketing and brand strategy. With her background in tech, digital media, and mental health advocacy, she hopes to make the world and the people who live in it a bit happier and healthier.

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