We are now well into the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic. While many states saw a decline in cases after the initial spring surge, much of the country is beginning to see a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
This scenario is exactly what healthcare workers feared would happen to our hospitals as the virus began to spread across the country. As scary as the pandemic is for many regular folks, it can be even worse for those brave individuals who are working on the frontlines.
Take, for instance, Jennifer Williams, a nurse at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, MA. The spring COVID-19 surge was stressful enough for her to need to begin taking blood pressure medication and to seek the help of a therapist. Luckily, by summer she was feeling better.
However, as COVID-19 cases have begun to rise again in her hospital, Williams finds her anxiety levels rising again. Rising stress levels have led Williams to find herself crying in her car after many of her shifts.
Likewise, Ben Podsiadlo, a paramedic and the director of clinical integration for Armstrong Ambulance Service out of Boston, MA, has noticed the pressure that COVID-19 is putting on his co-workers. The initial surge of COVID-19 led to a significant increase in 911 calls—many of which were for patients who couldn’t be saved.
While paramedics like Podsiadlo must always be ready to respond to calls, there are increasing concerns of first responder and healthcare worker burn-out due to the volume of calls they’re taking. There are also concerns about increases in the rates of depression; as well as the use of drugs and alcohol to numb the stress of losing so many patients and the sheer volume they must treat.
Stress and anxiety aren’t the only psychological side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are instances of doctors and nurses suffering from a serious lack of trust in their employers after being forced to work in hazardous conditions without proper protection because there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to go around.
PTSD and its symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.” The aftereffects, or symptoms, those suffering from PTSD vary depending on the individual, but may include anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares. Those who experience or witness a traumatic event often find it difficult to adjust or cope after the event; however, with time and self-care, many usually recover.
Typically, those who experience a traumatic event will begin experiencing PTSD within a month. However, some victims don’t begin to experience symptoms until years later.
There are 4 common types of PTSD symptom categories:
- An attempt to avoid talking and/or thinking about the event
- Purposefully avoiding the activities, people and/or places that remind the victim of the event
Changes in emotional and physical reactions
- Concentration problems
- Constantly being on guard
- Excessive anger, aggressive behaviors and/or irritability
- Feelings of overwhelming guilt or shame
- Participating in self-destructive behaviors
- Excessive drinking
- Using recreational drugs
- Sleep disruption
- Startling or frightening easily
- Dreams/nightmares about the trauma
- Experiencing episodes of extreme emotional distress or physical reactions to memories of the trauma
- Experiencing recurring memories of trauma
Negative changes in mood and thinking
- A feeling of detachment to people or the world
- A sense of being emotionally numb
- A sense of hopelessness
- Experiencing negative thoughts about people or self
- Experiencing trouble making positive emotions
- Inability to maintain close relationships
- No longer interested in enjoyable activities
- Problems with memory (including trouble remembering the specifics of the traumatic event)
COVID-19, healthcare workers and PTSD
According to the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated to a point where it isn’t just a global health emergency, but has begun to lead to psychological concerns. For healthcare workers and paramedics specifically, the threat of daily exposure to the virus; as well as witnessing daily deaths and infected patients and experiencing supply shortages can all lead to increased stress levels. Working under long-term stress levels can lead to PTSD.
Additionally, healthcare workers also face social isolation (due to quarantine efforts), physical discomfort (from longer shifts and a constant need to be in protective equipment) and fear (for both their own survival as well as their patients).
All these conditions can increase an individual’s risk of developing job-related PTSD.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health resources for healthcare workers who have always had a higher risk of developing PTSD and post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS).
Healthcare workers who work in emergency care facilities are even more at risk due to the high-stakes nature of their workplace. They are consistently exposed to the following situations that increase PTSD likelihood:
- Circadian rhythm interruptions due to changing work shifts
- Crowded settings
- Frequently taking care of traumatized patients
- Managing critical medical care
- Witnessing death and trauma frequently
Workers’ compensation for Arizona workers suffering from PTSD
Applying for and receiving benefits from a workers’ compensation claim in Arizona can be complex. This is even more true when the illness you’re facing doesn’t often have visible symptoms. Those suffering from the mental stress of PTSD that they’re only experiencing due to their employment deserve just as much compensation as someone who receives a physical injury at work.
That’s where an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer comes in.
Healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses, who are injured on the job in the state of Arizona are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits as long as they’re part- or full-time employees.
Furthermore, Arizona’s workers’ compensation system is “no-fault”, meaning the injured party receives compensation regardless who is at fault for the injury (except for self-inflicted injuries).
Additionally, injured doctors and nurses have the right to see their own doctor after an initial doctor’s visit after their injury.
While there are no specific protections for healthcare workers suffering from PTSD, there are provisions for compensation for stress-related conditions, of which PTSD would qualify. Likewise, paramedics are also eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Arizona. Unlike healthcare workers, there are specific protections for paramedics experiencing PTSD.
Like any other workplace injury in Arizona, it is important to file a claim as soon as possible after experiencing PTSD symptoms as claimants only have 1 year to file a claim.
For those already suffering from PTSD symptoms, simply living during the COVID-19 pandemic can increase symptoms. If you or a loved one are suffering from PTSD, there are tools available to help you manage your symptoms. For starters, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has some helpful resources, including a mobile app.
Additionally, if you’re suffering from PTSD due to your work as a doctor, nurse or paramedic, contact an experienced Arizona workers’ compensation attorney at the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski today for your free consultation. We can help you get the compensation you deserve.