Dealing With COVID-19 Patients: A Moderated Mediation Model of Exposure to Patients' Death and Mental Health of Italian Health Care Workers

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic is asking health care workers (HCWs) to meet extraordinary challenges. In turn, HCWs were experiencing tremendous psycho-social crisis as they have had to deal with unexpected emotional requirements (ERs) arising from caring for suffering and dying patients on a daily basis. In that context, recent studies have highlighted how HCWs working during the COVID-19 outbreak manifested extreme emotional and behavioral reactions that may have impacted their mental health, increasing the risk for developing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Purpose: The aim of the study was to investigate post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as intrusion symptoms, as a potential mediator of the link between ERs and crying at work, and whether rumination moderates the relationship between ERs and intrusion-based PTS symptoms among HCWs who have had to deal with patients dying from COVID-19.

Methods: An online cross-sectional study design was performed. A total of 543 Italian HCWs (physicians and nurses) participated in the study. Participation was voluntary and anonymous. We used the SPSS version of bootstrap-based PROCESS macro for testing the moderated mediation model.

Results: ERs had an indirect effect on crying at work through the mediating role of intrusion symptoms. Results from the moderated mediation model showed that rumination moderated the indirect effect of ERs on crying at work via intrusion symptoms, and this effect was significant only for high rumination. Furthermore, when we tested for an alternative model where rumination moderates the direct effect of ERs on crying at work, this moderation was not significant.

Conclusions: As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, there is an urgent need for decision-makers to rapidly implement interventions aimed at offering timely psychological support to HCWs, especially in those contexts where the risk of emotional labor associated to patients dying from COVID-19 is higher.

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