COVID-19 and work demands among prison nurses

  • Research

A new study from researchers at UCLA is shedding light on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses working in California prisons.

Compared to those in more traditional clinical environments, the study shows that prison nurses suffered from increased rates of psychosocial and organizational work factors, sleep issues, impact from COVID-19, and psychological concerns.

“In our study, prison nurses worked longer hours compared to community nurses, and these working hours increased since before the pandemic,” said Dr. Jian Li, co-principal investigator and professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “These findings are important, suggesting that prison nurses may be predisposed to risks of mental disorders, as well as potential harm to physical health, given the recent research evidence from the World Health Organization that long working hours are found to be associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, involved the collaboration of researchers at UCLA, UC Irvine, and a team of psychologists within the California prison system.

“Our study recognizes the work and experiences of nurses, especially in the understudied specialty of correctional nursing,” said Megan Guardiano, a doctoral student in the UCLA School of Nursing PhD program and first author of the study. “Both prison nurses and nurses working within the community averaged high levels of work stress, and many reported symptoms indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Dr. Liwei Chen, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology and co-author, also emphasized the unique contribution of this study, stating that “although our findings reflect one prison, these results provide insight into COVID-19-related demands in this work environment, which could have important implications for prison nurses across the state and country.”

Dr. Wendie Robbins, co-principal investigator and professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Department of Environmental Health Sciences noted that prison nurses perceived adequate PPE availability and reported less fear of infection at work, but reported longer working hours and less sleep compared to community nurses.  This highlights the importance of work policies related to nurses’ wellbeing. She suggested, “applications of our study could contribute toward the development and implementation of occupational policies, such as those that affect working hours, to protect nurses’ physical and physiological wellbeing.”

Read the entire study here.