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Ignored and distressed: a cross-sectional study of the impact of COVID-19 on last responders.

Afifi RA, Calderon JL, Pham H, Teahen P, Zarate-Sada S, Sewell DK, Vander Weg MW. Ignored and distressed: a cross-sectional study of the impact of COVID-19 on last responders. BMC public health. 2023 Aug 26; 23(1):1637.

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BACKGROUND: Last responders constitute an occupational category that includes all those that are involved in the postmortem care of deceased persons and their families. Last responders are exposed to several categories of work-related stressors that affect their health and well-being. COVID-19 exacerbated these stressors. Research to understand the consequences of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of last responders is nascent. This study aimed to assess COVID-19 related stress, coping and wellbeing among last responders in the United States. METHODS: We conducted a national cross-sectional survey of last responders in July through September of 2020. The survey measured wellbeing, stress, coping, and stigma; COVID-19 experiences, and socio-demographics. A ridge regression model was fit for the outcome variables. RESULTS: Analysis was conducted on 366 respondents from 43 states. Respondents were male (55.4%), age 50?+?(57.4%), and White non-Hispanic (90.3%); 54% reported moderate-high stress and 41% endorsed mild-severe anxiety. Seventy-seven percent had experienced at least one form of stigma related to their occupation. Variables associated with higher perceived stress and anxiety included gender (female), shorter length of employment, perceiving a higher impact from COVID-19 on everyday life, and increased perceived stigma. CONCLUSIONS: Last responders are a critical part of the health care system. Throughout this pandemic, last responders have been frequently ignored and not prioritized for protection and support. Interventions to support last responders cope with stress, and to decrease anxiety are urgently needed. There is also a critical need to challenge community stigma towards last responders.

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