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Half of local health professionals report compassion fatigue as pandemic wears on

health workers in a hospital lean over a sick patient
U.S. Navy
Hospitals are typically filled with sick and injured patients who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Surveys were completed by 180 individuals from a variety of helping professions, including medical, law enforcement, nonprofit, fire/EMS, education, mental health, and human services.

More than half of local health professionals and first responders have experienced compassion fatigue, according to a community impact report released by a Sarasota-based nonprofit that helps people deal with trauma.

Resilient Retreat collected the data to demonstrate the need for trauma-based services in Sarasota and Manatee counties for health care workers and first responders.

The organization’s executive director Lisa Intagliata, says the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has deeply impacted people who help others.

"They will experience compassion fatigue because they can mirror what's happening in the situation and what is going on in the lives that they're saving and they often internalize that,” she said. “It’s actually a psychological phenomenon in your brain. We all have mirror neurons and sometimes those mirror neurons, they're mirroring situations of stress and trauma."

According to the survey, 52 percent of local health professionals and first responders reported experiencing compassion fatigue, with 39 percent reporting moderate to severe secondary traumatic stress.

Mental health experts say that compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout. But it’s more acute than simply being tired. Health care workers and first responders are prone to mix the stress of traumatic events they witness on the job with the personal stress they are experiencing.

Intagliata says the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others during the pandemic is significant.

"Seeing the patients in isolation, having to work through sometimes tablets and iPhones to correspond with family members about the loved one that was being hospitalized, it took a huge mental health toll."

The survey was produced to guide agencies on how to best help local health workers cope.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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