UnitedHealth, American Nurses Foundation team on pilot to tackle nurse burnout

The United Health Foundation is teaming up with the American Nurses Foundation to address nurse burnout.

The foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, will partner with the nursing group in a three-year, $3.1 million grant program to pilot a stress and burnout prevention program. The initiative aims to overhaul organizational structure, address stigmas associated with seeking mental health care and encourage nurses to seek mental health services and support earlier.

A key focus in the pilot is elevating the voices of millennial and Generation Z nurses in the conversation around burnout, according to the announcement.

“Few could have predicted how unprecedented and demanding the past two and a half years have been for all of us, let alone our country’s nursing staff,” said Mary Jo Jerde, senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Group Center for Clinician Advancement, in the release. “Nurses have played a vital role throughout this critical period and we’re committed to ensuring they have the resources they need to deliver care across the country.”

The demands of the COVID-19 pandemic have put significant strain on the healthcare workforce, and many nurses are bearing the brunt of that stress. The most recent Pulse of the Nation's nurses survey found that 71% of nurses report feeling stressed, 69% said they are frustrated and 65% said they feel exhausted. Nearly half (49%) said they are burnt out, and 58% said they are feeling overwhelmed.

Those figures were higher among Gen Z and millennial nurses compared to their older counterparts, the foundations noted in the release, and these feelings were also commonly expressed among nurses of color.

A survey conducted by the American Nurses Foundation in August 2021 found that 34% of nurses do not feel emotionally healthy and 42% experienced trauma related to COVID-19.

“Given the complexity, intensity and intimacy of what nurses do every day, nurses’ need for mental health support has always existed. This has been exacerbated tenfold by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kate Judge, executive director of the American Nurses Foundation, in the release. “Burnout cannot just be addressed one nurse at a time. This new partnership addresses burnout at the systems level, especially for those most impacted including younger nurses and nurses of color.”

The American Nurses Foundation will pilot the program in four healthcare organizations that include more than 15,000 nurses across acute, primary and long-term care settings: BayCare Health System, Indiana University Health, University of South Alabama Health Hospital and Wayne Health Care. The pilot group represents both urban and rural sites of care.

The program takes a "train the trainer" approach originally developed for the military and later adapted to other demanding professions. The goal is to identify stress reactions before they grow into significant, lasting issues by empowering nurses to speak about their stress and burnout using common language and with peer support. Lessons from the pilot will be adapted into a national awareness campaign, including free anti-burnout resources for nurses and clinicians.

The partners plan to scale the pilot to reach more than 50,000 nurses nationwide over time.

In 2020, the United Health Foundation launched a similar pilot aimed at burnout among family physicians, in partnership with the American Academy of Family Physicians. The pilot is baked into UnitedHealth Group's broader efforts to target health equity, the company said.