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Child care challenges lead to hospital staff burnout, report says

Child care scarcity was a problem even before the pandemic, but COVID-19 forced many child care centers and home care providers to close their doors. The stress of finding child care worsened the pandemic’s toll on women in medicine, according to a new study.

Researchers found that physicians who experience child care stress have a 111% greater likelihood of reporting anxiety and depression due to COVID-19 compared to those with a low amount of such stress. Stress is the cause of burnout among many medical professionals, the study says, and that’s triggering many health care workers – especially women – to leave their jobs. The exodus of medical workers is adding to an existing shortage of medical staff, which researchers fear will worsen hospital wait times and further burnout other employees.

“This study shows the ripple effect that child care shortages and expenses have on all our essential needs and services. The federal proposal to cap the out-of-pocket expense to families at 7% of their income would help all families, including those in the health care field and other essential industries. The proposed cap would allow the private child care sector to charge the true cost of care, a factor that’s been overlooked for too long,” said CCRC President and CEO Dr. Michael Olenick.

During the pandemic, CCRC acted fast to enroll 2,236 children of essential workers in child care using emergency funding made available through the governor’s executive order. As this new funding became available, CCRC staff developed an extensive outreach plan and promptly helped secure child care for thousands of essential workers.

“The hours that we work are so different than your standard child care hours … so it’s often difficult to find a facility or a child care worker that is able to work those hours,” said Elizabeth Harry, MD, the lead author of the study and senior medical director of well-being at University of Colorado Health in Denver.

About 25% of the essential workers for whom we helped secure child care required care during non-traditional hours. This was a challenge that we successfully navigated to ensure families had child care when then needed it.

As the research published in the American Medical Association suggests, the correlation between burnout and reduced hours is strong. In fact, health care workers who experienced child care stress had a 91% greater chance of reducing their clinical hours compared to those experiencing low or no child care stress.

The ongoing child care crisis, which has only worsened since the pandemic, has far greater implications than hardship on families, which is in itself a big problem. A lack of affordable, reliable child care creates a ripple effect that touches every aspect of our nation’s economy. Child care providers are essential workers, too, and they deserve adequate pay and support. At the same time, care must be made more affordable for families who need this service in order to work or attend school.

The study recognized a need for change in the child care sector, citing a few potential solutions such as on-site care or accommodations for short notice schedule changes. “[Workplaces that] are aware of worker concerns about their children will be better positioned to show workers they are a caring environment, one that, we hope, workers would be more likely to remain with rather than leaving for shift work in other settings, a scenario that is currently occurring in large numbers,” the study says.

CCRC has called on business leaders to provide child care for employees and continuously works to improve care options for more families. A big part of CCRC’s work involves collaborating with lawmakers to stress the importance of child care for all families. The agency’s government relations team actively works alongside legislators to help secure new funding, like the historic increase in reimbursement rates for providers that was signed by the governor in 2021.

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