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Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
August 03, 2021
2 min read

Small percentage of health workers unwilling to care for COVID-19 patients early on

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Around 9% of health care workers at two New York hospitals said they were unwilling to provide care to patients with COVID-19 early in the pandemic — a much lower percentage than during epidemics of HIV and Ebola, researchers reported.

This “suggests that the ethics of care may have evolved over time, perhaps due to experiences with those prior epidemics,” the researchers wrote.

Source: Adobe Stock.
Registered nurses and health care workers living with children were more likely to find it acceptable to refuse care to patients with COVID-19. Source: Adobe Stock.

Those who were most likely to find it ethical to refuse care included registered nurses and health workers living with children, according to a survey.

“We wanted to evaluate health care workers’ attitudes toward caring for patients with COVID-19 during the beginning of the pandemic when personal protective equipment was not uniformly available or even certain to be protective, as this was a new virus,” Rodney A. McLaren Jr., MD, now an assistant professor in the division of maternal-fetal medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, told Healio.

“We were in a unique setting as we were in the epicenter of the pandemic in New York, so we had the opportunity to evaluate these attitudes as health care workers were experiencing them firsthand.”

McLaren and colleagues from Maimonides Medical Center and SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn surveyed health care workers (HCWs) using 17 multiple-choice questions about demographic information, ethics and willingness to care for patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Among the 340 HCWs who were approached, 338 (99.4%) consented to the survey, including 163 (48.7%) registered nurses (RNs) and 160 (48.3%) HCWs who lived with children.

According to the results, although 326 (97.3%) workers were concerned about putting their family and/or coworkers at risk for infection after caring for a patient with SARS-CoV-2, only 30 (8.9%) were unwilling to treat a patient with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

McLaren and colleagues found that RNs were more likely than other HCWs to think it was ethical to refuse care for SARS-CoV-2-infected patients, worried more often about contracting infection and felt that SARS-CoV-2 added to their stress level (P = .009, P = .018, P < .001, respectively). The survey revealed that similar attitudes were observed when comparing HCWs who live with children vs. those who did not (P = .016, P = .005, P = .006, respectively).

“An important take-home message is that these concerns need to be addressed to help avoid health care worker burnout, especially in those with high-volume patient contact,” McLauren said.