LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The last couple of years have been tough on many, but it's fair to say healthcare workers may have borne the brunt.
All this week in our Health Check '22 series, we're looking at some of this year's biggest impacts on our health. 13 Action News anchor Tricia Kean spoke with an expert who says many of our doctors, nurses and social workers may not be getting the help they need.
Sandra Raichart is a clinical social worker and owner of Executive Therapy Solutions. She says her entire industry has felt the physical, mental and emotional impact of the pandemic.
"You know, you're always on call. It's very high stress, but during the pandemic it was ramped up exponentially," Raichart said.
Raichart fears many health care workers aren't seeking the help they need.
"I would say we have not seen the worst of it," she said. "You'll see people coming in maybe six weeks, six months from now really struggling with some terrible self-conflict and depression."
She says many of her clients are experiencing job burnout from being overworked and feeling unappreciated. At one point, there was a real push to recognize our health care workers as heroes. But Raichart says many simply didn't feel the love.
"What we found was that the celebration of this 'Heroes Work Here' was substituted with a lot of hostility toward health care workers," Raichart said. "A lot of the pandemic became so politicized that a lot of health care workers became really depressed over it."
That mental burnout is just one component. Many health care workers are still dealing with the physical burnout that comes from short staffing and constant change.
Brian Paonessa, a registered nurse, said every time it felt like things might get back to normal during the pandemic, hospitals were suddenly taking two steps back.
"I think every day was different when I walked in the hospital. Us, as nurses, we didn't know what area of the hospital we'd be working in," Paonessa said.
Paonessa says the main reason for that was staffing shortages.
"When the nurse comes in and says, I'm not feeling good, (they're) gone," Paonessa said. "'Go get tested.' Then you, as a nurse, have to step up to fill the void of them not being there anymore."
It was a daily challenge he says was taxing on everyone.
"You're like, 'I have so many tasks right now, I can't even be distracted by something else,'" Paonessa said.
So Paonessa made sure to take time and decompress every day.
"As soon as you clock out, for me, I would sit in my truck and just breathe and just calm down from the day and let it go," he said.
Raichart says that's the key — everyone needs to find an outlet. But so many in the health care industry still haven't taken time to just stop and breathe.
"Regardless of what your name badge says, what letters you have after your name, at the end of the day you're a human being. It takes a toll on you," Raichart said.
That doesn't mean it's easy to ask for help or allow yourself to admit you're struggling, she noted. People who are struggling might still find themselves saying, "you know what, I don't need help."
In that case, Raichart says, "I would say, 'well, that's very courageous to feel that way, and we often feel in our industry we don't need help. We've got this. We've been training for it.' But to take a moment every day and be mindful."
If you're concerned about yourself or someone you know, Raichart says there are some important questions to consider: Are you losing sleep? Are you getting sick more often? Are you missing a lot of work? Are you experiencing low morale? And are you isolating yourself?
"These are really important indicators of anxiety and depression going on. I think that's when you really want to reach out to a mental health professional and say 'hey, I need help,'" Raichart said.
Paonessa also wants to do his part. He's left full-time nursing to create the organization Fit Functional Nurses, aimed at providing benefits and incentives to nurses.