CDC releases field-tested guidance for hospital CEOs tackling their workers' mental health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s campaign against healthcare worker burnout took a step forward this week with the release of a new instructional guide for executive-level hospital leaders.

The free resource outlines several steps that the agency said have been piloted across six CommonSpirit Health hospitals and developed in tandem with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, a clinician wellness nonprofit.

They instruct executives on how to, among other actions, conduct a thorough review of existing hospital operations’ impact on workers’ wellbeing or build out a suite of communication tools between leaders and employees.

“We know hospital leaders have a lot of competing demands and it can be overwhelming to know where to start when working to improve professional wellbeing,” Stefanie Simmons, M.D., chief medical officer of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, said in a release. “The guide provides hospital leaders across the country the tools for putting together a more cohesive wellbeing strategy, allowing them to take stock of where they are now, highlighting some of the missing pieces, and taking action to get to where they want to be.”

Forty-six percent of healthcare workers polled by the CDC in 2022 said they often felt burned out, as opposed to the 32% who said so in 2018.

The guide comes with worksheets and other materials breaking down six major actions organizations should be able to complete within a six-month timeframe. Its topline steps for leaders are to:

  1. Conduct a review of your hospital’s operations to determine how they support professional wellbeing.
  2. Build a dedicated team to support professional wellbeing at your hospital.
  3. Remove barriers to seeking care, such as intrusive mental health questions on credentialing applications.
  4. Develop a suite of communication tools that help you share updates with your workforce about your hospital’s journey to improve professional wellbeing.
  5. Integrate professional wellbeing measures into an ongoing quality improvement project.
  6. Create a 12-month plan to continue to move your hospital’s professional wellbeing work forward.

In addition to promoting systems-level changes to accelerate worker wellbeing, the process outlined in the guide is designed to build trust between hospital leaders and healthcare workers, John Howard, M.D., director of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), said.

“The role of healthcare workers in taking care of all of us is absolutely vital to our society, to our economy, and to our culture,” he said in a release. “But our healthcare workforce needs to feel supported, too.”

The process was piloted among the CommonSpirit hospitals from July to December 2023 and revised based on feedback from leadership at those facilities to ensure the steps “are applicable in real-life hospital settings,” NIOSH wrote in the guidance. Quotes and reflections from those hospital leaders are interspersed throughout the document.

“Through the pilot program, this guide has acted as a catalyst, allowing these six hospitals to effectively and efficiently accelerate the existing tools and resources we have developed as a healthcare system,” Paul Raines, system senior vice president of behavioral health at CommonSpirit, said in a release. “The guide is an important component as we seek to ensure that hospital leaders have the right tools to provide a supportive environment for the healthcare workers who take such good care of our communities.”

The CDC and NIOSH will be hosting a webinar series on the guidance for hospital leaders starting in late April. The new release is part of the agency’s Impact Wellbeing campaign addressing healthcare worker burnout, which launched last October on the back of American Rescue Plan funding.

Elsewhere in government, a bill that would reauthorize the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act—which provides grants for behavioral health services for frontline healthcare workers—through 2029 was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year. It was unanimously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcomittee for wider consideration last week.