CANADA POLITICS Healthcare workers turn to government for help as burnout...

Healthcare workers turn to government for help as burnout worsens and staffing shortages widen

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Medical professionals and health sector organizations say high burnout rates and staff shortages in hospitals across the country have become “pervasive” and they are urging the federal government to sit down at the negotiating table with provinces and territories to find solutions.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of vacancies among medical workers – mainly in hospitals – increased by almost 92 percent between September and December 2021 compared to the same period before the pandemic in 2019.

Paul-Émile Cloutier is the CEO of HealthCareCAN, an organization representing healthcare organizations and hospitals. He said the situation is getting worse and leading to longer waiting times and delaying the operation.

“The system bleeds people at all levels, and it’s not just about [intensive care unit] or an emergency, that’s across the board,” Cloutier said. “It’s like sleepwalking into a disaster.”

Cloutier said there are 13 different health systems in provinces and territories across the country, and there is no central body that collects and analyzes data. His organization wants to see a new nationwide body that can deal with bandwidth issues and deal with vacancies caused by burnout.

Dr. Katherine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told CBC. Power and politics guest David Cochrane on Friday revealed that she recently met with Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos to discuss the challenges facing Canada’s healthcare system.

“I think what we need is for the federal leadership to really realize that these issues that we are seeing in the healthcare system are not unique to one province or territory,” she said. “We need this guidance to really identify what key elements we need and we need funding to address some of those issues.”

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“When people are more resentful of a 4-hour wait for airport security than a 3-year wait for a hip replacement, we kind of lose sight of what’s important.” CMA President Dr Catherine Smart says the challenges facing the health care system must remain at the forefront of Canadians’ attention.

In March, Duclos announced that the federal government would provide $2 billion to provinces and territories to help close the health care backlog caused by the decades-long pandemic crisis.

Health Canada spokesperson Ann Genier said the government is taking other steps to close the backlog in the health care system and address workforce burnout.

In a statement released by CBC News, she pointed to a $140 million federal commitment to support Wellness Together Canada’s online portal. The portal provides free and confidential mental health and substance abuse tools and services to frontline workers and makes legislative changes to protect workplaces from threats, violence and harassment.

“A safe work environment is critical to the retention of healthcare workers,” Genier said in a statement.

Genier said the budget also includes $115 million over five years and $30 million each year thereafter to expand a program that recognizes foreign health degrees and allows health professionals from abroad to work in Canada. Millions more dollars have been committed to providing and retaining healthcare workers in Canada’s rural and remote communities, she said.

But Cloutier and Smart said Ottawa needs to do more.

“There needs to be a meeting of first health ministers in partnership with some health partners,” Cloutier said. “I think it can be very helpful because I think the provinces understand that there is a big problem at the provincial level as well.”

Ontario Emergency Department Physician Dr. Kari Sampsel submitted her resignation in December 2021 after 15 years of service. She said she feared that her workplace would no longer be safe for herself or her patients.

Sampsel said she had to treat patients in their cars in the parking lot and corridors of the hospital because the emergency room was overcrowded and there were no available beds.

We’re doing all this because it’s the right thing to do,” Sampsel said, adding that she doesn’t want to name her former hospital for fear of a backlash. “That’s what we’re trained to do.”

Dr. Kari Sampsel, an emergency room physician in Ontario, filed her resignation in December 2021 after 15 years on the job. She said she feared that her workplace would no longer be safe for herself and her patients. (Michelle Wahlberg/Submitted)

Sampsel said that as the work climate began to take its toll on her mental health, she felt she had to leave.

“I don’t do the job I love anymore because it was literally killing me,” she said.

Sampsel said these problems existed long before COVID, though the pandemic has exacerbated them.

“COVID has put pressure on other parts of the system, so now everyone is feeling [emergency] department, she says.

She said her former department was now short of a dozen full-time doctors, and most of her colleagues complained of burnout.

“People leave for reasons of self-preservation. The problem is not the work, but the circumstances,” she said.

Crucial moment

HealthCareCAN is now seeking additional funding from the federal government to improve workplace conditions and work-life balance, as well as additional behavioral health services for staff.

“I think now they need to sit down with the provinces and have a really frank discussion about how to move forward on the health workforce,” Cloutier said.

Danielle Chaput, an intensive care unit nurse in Ontario for 12 years, said she was diagnosed with compassion fatigue, clinical burnout and generalized anxiety disorder during the pandemic.

“While I work as a nurse, we don’t have enough staff,” she said.

Danielle Chaput, an intensive care unit nurse in Ontario for 12 years, said she was diagnosed with compassion fatigue, clinical burnout and generalized anxiety disorder during the pandemic. (Presented by Daniel Chaput)

Chaput estimated that at one point the patient-to-nurse ratio at the hospital was 8:1. She said her tipping point came when she realized she could no longer provide the care she felt her patients deserve due to circumstances beyond her control.

“I’ve never seen it be this bad in terms of how many people are leaving,” she said.

Chaput said she takes fewer shifts at the hospital to take care of her mental health. “It’s very hard to think about it because nursing is all I ever wanted to do,” she said.

“I mourn the loss of the profession I once knew, and I am working to separate my identity from my work.”

Chaput said she started the business to support healthcare workers and others experiencing burnout and workplace anxiety.

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