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Healthcare workers seek government help as burnout worsens and staff shortages increase

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Health care workers and organizations in the health sector say the high rate of burnout and staffing shortages in hospitals across the country have become “endemic” – and they are calling on the federal government to sit down with the provinces and territories to find solutions.

The number of vacancies among healthcare professionals – mainly in hospitals – increased by almost 92% during the period from September to December 2021 compared to the same period before the pandemic in 2019, according to data from Statistics Canada.

Paul-Émile Cloutier is CEO of HealthCareCAN, an organization that represents healthcare organizations and hospitals. He said the situation was getting worse and leading to longer wait times and delays in surgery.

“The system is bleeding people at all levels and it’s not just the [intensive care unit] or urgency, it’s at all levels,” Cloutier said. “It’s like sleepwalking into a disaster.

Cloutier said there are 13 different health care systems in provinces and territories across the country and no central body collects and analyzes data. His organization wants to see a new national body that can deal with capacity issues and solve the problem of vacancies caused by burnout.

Dr. Katherine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told CBC Political power guest host David Cochrane on Friday that she recently met with Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos to discuss issues facing Canada’s health care system.

“I think what we need is federal leadership to really recognize that these challenges we’re seeing across the health care system are not unique to any one province or territory,” he said. she stated. “We need that leadership to really define what are the key things we need to act on, and we need the funding to address some of those issues.”

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“When people are more outraged waiting 4 hours at airport security than 3 years for a hip replacement, we kind of lost track of what’s important.” CMA President Dr. Katharine Smart says the challenges facing the health care system must remain a priority for Canadians.

Duclos announced in March that the federal government would provide $2 billion to provinces and territories to help eliminate the health care backlog created by the years-long pandemic crisis.

Health Canada spokeswoman Anne Génier said the government is taking further steps to reduce backlogs in the health care system and tackle burnout.

In a statement released to CBC News, she highlighted a $140 million commitment in the federal budget to support the Wellness Together Canada online portal. The portal provides free, confidential mental health and addictions tools and services to frontline workers and makes legislative changes to protect workplaces from threats, violence and harassment.

“A safe work environment is essential to support healthcare worker retention,” Génier said in the statement.

Genier noted that the budget also provides $115 million over five years, and $30 million each year thereafter, to expand a program that recognizes foreign health care credentials and enables foreign health professionals to work in Canada. Millions of additional dollars have been earmarked for the supply and retention of healthcare workers in rural and remote communities across Canada, she said.

But both Cloutier and Smart said Ottawa needed to do more.

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

Ontario emergency physician Dr. Kari Sampsel resigned in December 2021 after 15 years on the job. She said she fears her workplace will no longer be safe for herself or her patients.

Sampsel said she had to treat patients in their vehicles in the hospital parking lot and hallways because the emergency room was overflowing and there were no beds available.

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

Dr. Kari Sampsel, an emergency physician in Ontario, resigned in December 2021 after 15 years on the job. She said she fears her workplace will no longer be safe for her and her patients. (Michelle Valberg/Submitted)

Sampsel said that when the work climate started to take a toll on her mental health, she felt she had to step away.

“I’m not doing a job that I love anymore because it was basically killing me,” she said.

Sampsel said these issues were present long before COVID arrived, though the pandemic has helped to make them worse.

“COVID has put pressure on other parts of the system, so now everyone feels like the [emergency] department,” she said.

She said her old department now had a dozen full-time doctors and most of her colleagues complained of burnout.

“People leave for their own preservation. It’s not the job that’s the problem. It’s the circumstances,” she said.

The Breaking Point

HealthCareCAN is now asking the federal government for more funding to improve work environments and work-life balance, and for additional mental health services for staff.

“‘I think now what they need to do is sit down with the provinces and have a really frank discussion about how to move forward on the issue of health human resources,” said Cloutier said.

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

“Since I’ve been a nurse, we’ve been understaffed,” she said.

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

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

“I’ve never seen it so bad in terms of the number of people leaving,” she said.

Chaput said she was taking fewer hospital shifts to work on 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 a profession I once knew and am working to separate my identity from my work.”

Chaput said she started a business to support healthcare workers and others suffering from burnout and workplace anxiety.