AFT Resolution


WHEREAS, after two years of record hospitalization rates and as the nation has surpassed 1 million deaths from COVID-19, our nation’s healthcare workforce has been stretched beyond the breaking point and is in a mental health crisis—fatigued from unsafe patient levels and workloads that worsened during the pandemic, scarred from all they have witnessed over the last two years, and dealing with severe burnout and with moral injury from repeatedly being forced to make choices that transgress their long-standing, deeply held commitment to healing;[1] and

WHEREAS, the worry and emotional trauma related to COVID-19 have had a negative impact on the mental health of a majority of our healthcare workforce.[2] Around one-third of healthcare workers either received or thought they needed mental health services because of the pandemic. And nearly all reported negative impacts to physical health and to relationships with family and co-workers. Many reported problems with sleeping, frequent headaches, increased use of alcohol or drug use, all attributed to pandemic stress and worry; and

WHEREAS, another recent study showed that more than 70 percent of healthcare workers have symptoms of anxiety and depression, 38 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 15 percent have had recent thoughts of suicide;[3] and

WHEREAS, emotional trauma, burnout and mental health needs of frontline healthcare professionals were at high levels even before the pandemic with, for example, between 17 and 38 percent of nurses reporting some depression,[4] and most alarming of all, healthcare professionals dying by suicide, with risk of suicide in health professionals, particularly nurses, being higher than the general population even before the pandemic[5] and female nurses dying by suicide at twice the rate of women who aren’t nurses;[6] and

WHEREAS, stigma associated with seeking mental health supports and months long waiting lists due to provider shortages are barriers to treatment and support that place perilous strain on health professionals;[7] and

WHEREAS, the mental health crisis of healthcare professionals is the result of a broken healthcare system and not individual deficits, as is often suggested by employer resistance training; and

WHEREAS, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration and the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are over 5,800 designated mental health professional shortage areas in the country, and more than 6,300 mental health practitioners would be needed to meet the needs in the shortage areas;[8] and

WHEREAS, the risk of violent assault by patients or visitors is an ongoing source of emotional trauma for healthcare professionals—and with good reason. The rate of injuries from workplace assaults climbed by 173 percent in hospitals and by 95 percent in psychiatric and substance use facilities over the last 15 years. The rate of injuries from workplace violence in hospitals jumped by 25 percent in 2020 alone;[9] and

WHEREAS, the systematic failure of healthcare employers in providing psychological and physical safety in the work environment has a cumulative impact on the mental health of the workforce, but also results in consequences like lower employee engagement, more absenteeism and poor retention. These failures have been definitively shown to result in negative patient outcomes:[10]

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will:

·            Enact the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act; and

·            Hold the Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration accountable to promulgate the standard in a timely manner; and

·            Press the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to research and identify additional mitigations; and

·            Provide training and support to AFT Nurses and Health Professionals locals to foster their capacity to bargain with employers for comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs and effective training; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will advocate for:

·            Full enforcement of federal mental health services parity laws that require that health insurance plans provide the same level of coverage for mental health benefits as they do for medical benefits; and

·            Permanent federal funding for the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act that supports healthcare workers through training grants in strategies to reduce and prevent burnout, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders; education and awareness campaigns to encourage healthcare providers to use available mental and behavioral health services to address their own concerns; grants awarded to employers to establish or expand programs to promote mental and behavioral health for their employees; and a study on mental and behavioral health and burnout among healthcare workers; and

·            Increased funding for financial aid programs that support those seeking training to become mental health professionals and programs to recruit students into mental health careers; and

·            Support state level actions that expand access to mental health services by allowing healthcare professionals to practice to the full extent of their education and license; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will support affiliates in efforts to ensure employers provide paid time off for employer-sponsored mental health training and peer-to-peer support, expand the mental health benefits of employer health insurance, and that labor-management committees within healthcare facilities will address creating a supportive environment for nurses and health professionals and to develop metrics and strategies that track progress; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will partner with other organizations and mental health experts to develop new frameworks for ensuring psychological safety in the healthcare workplace and to address mental health needs of the workforce.

[5] Davis MA, Cher BAY, Friese CR, Bynum JPW. Association of US Nurse and Physician Occupation with Risk of Suicide. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(6):651–658. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0154

[8] HRSA. (March 31, 2021) Designated Health Professional Shortage Area Statistics. Retrieved from file:///H:/Public_Mental%20Health%20mapping/BCD_HPSA_SCR50_Qtr_Smry.pdf;

KFF. (Sept. 30, 2021) Mental Health Care Professionals Shortage Areas (HPSAs) Retrieved from,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

[9] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Survey of Occupational Illness and Injury Data, Table R8

[10] Roche, M. , Diers, D. , Duffield, C. & Catling-Paull, C. (2010). Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 42 (1), 13-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.2009.01321.x. See also Vessey J.A,. Demarco R., DiFazio R. Bullying, harassment, and horizontal violence in the nursing workforce: the state of the science. Annu Rev Nurs Res. 2010;28:133-57. doi: 10.1891/0739-6686.28.133. PMID: 21639026; and Rodwell J., Brunetto Y., Demir D., Shacklock K., Farr-Wharton R. Abusive supervision and links to nurse intentions to quit. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2014 Sep;46(5):357-65. doi: 10.1111/jnu.12089. Epub Aug. 15,2014. PMID: 25132621.

(July 16, 2022)