Nurses in Black-Serving Hospitals Experienced Increased Levels of “Moral Distress” During the Pandemic

A recent study led by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania has found nurses working in hospitals with predominately Black patients experienced the highest levels of moral distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors collected data from 3,675 nurses at 90 hospitals from March 2021 to April 2021 and found nurses in Black-serving hospitals were twice as likely to experience moral distress than nurses from non-predominately Black-serving hospitals. Moral distress is defined as a feeling of being prevented from making a morally-ethical decision, which contributes to mental health challenges. Nurses under moral distress are more likely to experience burnout and quit their jobs.

The authors discovered several findings that point towards why nurses in Black-serving hospitals experienced higher levels of distress. Nurses in Black-serving hospitals were more likely to disagree that their hospital’s leadership communicated effectively. They were also more likely to frequently care for COVID-19 patients and have limited access to personal protective equipment.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused challenges for all Americans, the authors believe their findings on Black-serving hospital disparities are significant. They suggest hospital administrators focus on improving communication with staff, such as implementing daily email updates and staff huddle meetings. Additionally, they recommend hospitals with predominately Black patients should be officially designated as Black-serving hospitals by the government, and in turn provide those hospitals with greater resources and support.

In addition to the University of Pennsylvania, the research team consisted of scholars from the University of Texas and Pennsylvania State University.

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