SAN DIEGO — The U.S. surgeon general warns burnout among health care workers is a national crisis.

The surgeon general says health care workers described their burnout throughout the pandemic as “exhausting” and “traumatic” and that they now need help.

“I’m not going to call it a burnout,” ER nurse Michael Jackson, with National Nurses United, told FOX 5 Friday. “I’m going to call it a moral distress.”

Jackson, who has worked in the ER for 21 years, is the union’s vice president. He says the burnout crisis among health care workers has been a long time coming.

“We’ve known this for quite some time and it’s something that could’ve been preventable by those in positions of leadership and management,” Jackson said. “They knew the next pandemic or crisis was coming. We’ve been saying this for years. If they had done more for preparation, maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with the moral distress dilemma we’re having in health care.”

Many are leaving the profession due to increasing workload and staffing shortages.

“There’s more workload when we are short-staffed,” Jackson said. “Not even just nurses. What about the people alongside of us that we depend on for ancillary staff. They’re not there. The nurse will have to pick up whatever work is left over.”

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says health care workers across the country are suffering from rising levels of burnout, anxiety and depression. Murthy’s office will soon move forward with a larger initiative around health worker well-being.  

“These are some of the strongest in society. They’ve been there taking care of us for the last couple of years but they are struggling and they need our support now,” Murthy said.

Jackson says he’d like the surgeon general to work on improving staffing, patient-to-nurse ratios and mental health services for workers.