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Burnout: Major concern in largest health care strike in U.S. history

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- While sources claim that tentative talks are hopeful, the largest strike in the history of U.S. health care continues on today. In the background is a concern connected to mental health -- and how it impacts medical professionals.

Over 75,000 union workers for Kaiser Permanente, a leading not-for-profit health employer, started the strike yesterday. It includes workers in more than five states and Washington D.C. It's set to run until Saturday morning.

Many of the nurses, receptionists, pharmacists and optometrists involved in the strike have identified overwork — and burnt out — in their jobs. Their union is demanding better pay, and for the staff shortages in the industry to be addressed with more hiring -- and less outsourcing.

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Burnout is a topic that's often been discussed in mental health of medical professionals since the start of the pandemic. While not classified as a medical condition in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, it is noted as being factors in the health status or contact with health service.

The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that burnout can arise from workplace stress that hasn't been managed successfully, and often includes feelings of exhaustion; increased distancing from mental connection to a job; and reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout has been a common concern raised by medical experts since the onset of the pandemic. The American Medical Association has been researching the topic, and claims that nearly 63% of physicians are facing burnout -- inlcuding emotional exhaustion.

While this Kaiser strike is not specifically tied to doctors, concerns about their support staff -- like nurses and techs mental health -- have been raised by industry professionals and researchers.

Kaiser management and labor reps have been discussing these issues for months, and continue to work toward some sort of agreement today. If the strike doesn't lead to improvements, there are rumors of a longer and more impactful strike next month.

Kaiser Permanente does have medical staff and emergency operations in place, according to statements. They warn patients that some non-emergency services could be unavailable during the strike.

Avery Martinez covers mental health in the Borderland as part of ABC-7’s Be Mindful initiative. He is also a Report for America corps member. RFA places talented, emerging journalists in newsrooms like ABC-7’s to report on under-covered issues and communities. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up

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