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Health Worker Safety is Patient Safety: It’s Time to Rebuild Our Health Systems to Support our Health Workers

by Hanna Rabah

By Amanda Ottosson, M.S.C., WI-HER Program Officer

WHO people-centered care
Source: World Health Organization

“People-centeredness” is a fundamental principle of quality health services. When someone seeks care or treatment within a health system, they hope to be understood, heard, and treated with kindness, respect, and the best possible personalized care possible. This is, of course, critical to quality care, but we must also look at the other side of the coin: how is the health workforce treated?

We must ask ourselves: how are the health workers – who consistently and continuously provide person-centered care – being provided for and treated as well? When we demand quality, do we view health workers as humans or machines? Do we view them with a person-centered perspective as well? Do we truly understand that they too may have bad days, that they are tired and overworked, and that they are… human?

When we expect to receive care and treatment from any health worker, especially psychological support services, we subject health workers to potential re-traumatization themselves. For example, WI-HER was contracted to adapt in-person gender-based violence training to online training during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a part of this adaption, WI-HER stressed the importance of considering re-traumatization of the health workers and offered support to the health workers should re-traumatization occur. Re-traumatization can occur for anyone involved in a patient’s care, including health workers.

This is one reason, of many, to consider: Who is taking care of our health workers, and how are we supporting both their physical and mental health? When we decide to not vaccinate or when we decide to make poor health decisions, which impact both ourselves and our communities, this says a lot about how a community values health workers who work tirelessly to provide person-centered care.

We must consider the care and health of our health workers too.

If we do not fight for a health system to protect health workers, how can we ever expect them to provide us with quality care? While we must continue to fight for quality service delivery, we must also recognize the efforts of those who care for us. And we must demand that our systems support our health workers. After all, when we support health workers, quality of care improves for all.

It’s time to rethink, rebuild, and strengthen our health systems to take a truly person-centered perspective, one that is inclusive of all actors involved.

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