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Coronavirus: Stress, staff shortage caused by COVID-19 forcing nurses to leave the front lines

TORONTO – Many nurses say they left the front lines after the stress of COVID-19 made their jobs more difficult and less safe, creating a shortage of healthcare workers in some areas and even forcing rural areas to shut down temporarily hospital units.

Registered nurses across Canada have taken to social media to sound the alarm bells over poor working conditions and aggressive, sometimes violent patients caused by the pandemic.

Johanna, who asked not to be identified, is an intensive care nurse who has looked after coronavirus patients in intensive care. She told CTV News that she recently quit the job due to burnout, saying she could no longer endure long shifts in an understaffed intensive care unit.

“And so, the passion for nursing for me is completely gone,” Johanna said in tears.

Johanna said she sometimes cares for up to four critically ill patients at a time, some on ventilators, while her partner was on hiatus due to understaffing.

“This is completely crazy,” she said. “If you make a mistake, that person doesn’t live.”

Although there are no firm figures yet, it has been reported that the pandemic has increased burnout among highly skilled nurses, forcing them to leave the profession at an alarming rate. Some retire prematurely.

Debra Lefebvre, nurse, mental health practitioner and board member of the Registered Nurse Association, estimates that almost two-thirds of professional nurses in Ontario alone are currently looking to change careers. She says this is largely due to unsafe staff ratios, working conditions, poor mental health and patient violence suffered during the pandemic.

Lefebvre told CTV News that she personally knew five nurses who quit their jobs.

“They couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.

Johanna says being a nurse is no longer a “normal job” and that the expectations they have to meet are “unrealistic”.

She explained that she came home from work feeling proud of what she had accomplished. Now she says the pride is gone.

“I come home now and think, ‘What can I do differently? What other job can I get into? I don’t think I can go on like this. I also don’t want my kids to think it’s normal, ”said Johanna.

What made it more difficult, Johanna said, were the expectations of nurses in the community to be “heroes” during the pandemic, which made her feel like she couldn’t say how badly. she was really exhausted.

“It’s difficult because we don’t have the right to talk about it. [If] you talk about it, you feel like you are not that hero that people think you are meant to be, ”Johanna said.


Those who remain in the field say they have often taken extra shifts to help those who are on duty. However, RN Anita says the nurses who do this pay a price.

“I hate to admit it, but in the last year and a half I’ve made more medical errors than in my entire career, and I attribute that to… [the] times I’ve worked 120 hours in two weeks, ”Anita told CTV News.

She added that there has also been an increase in verbal, sometimes physical, abuse from patients and their families over the past year.

Anita said the families of the patients accused her of erecting “roadblocks” to see loved ones with hospitals locked out, and argued with her over conspiracy theories about COVID-19.

“People’s opinions on vaccination will be heard and say, ‘This is a hoax’ and ‘It is the government trying to control them’, when in reality we are just trying to take care of their loved ones “said Anita.

Frustrating nurses are also the protests outside hospitals of those opposing face masks and vaccines. Anita says it’s an affront to those who work to save lives.

“These people who are demonstrating, if they get sick, then they will come to us – who they are protesting against – to ask us for help,” she said.

Even young nurses, including Toronto trauma registered nurse Eram Chhogala, say they are tired and exhausted from their jobs. She told CTV News that hiring more nurses won’t solve the problem, as new hires are leaving the profession as well.

“It’s worrying because [I] have people or colleagues of mine who are young people, who have just entered the profession and all of a sudden after a few months they suddenly got up and left, ”Chhogala said.

She explained that this is a cause for concern as staff shortages worsen.

“You won’t have enough nurses to meet your needs and needs and take care of you and your family or friends,” Chhogala said.

Health advocates say keeping trained nurses with better staffing and more mental health support could help tackle the problem, as well as end wage cuts and caps in the profession with campaigns to courts in Ontario and Alberta against efforts to limit public sector wage increases.

The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAPE) also issued a warning this week in favor of nurses.

“We are alarmed by the exodus of our colleagues. Morale and numbers are at their lowest. When departments are not able to staff adequately, it creates a domino effect of reduced access to care, increased burden on remaining nurses, increased risk of infection and decreased risk. patient safety, ”read the CAPE statement.

In addition to improving the system, nurses say the public can do their part to ease the pressure on hospitals by getting vaccinated.

If Canadians don’t and refuse to continue following virus restrictions, Chhogala said it is likely that hospitals across the country will again be inundated with COVID-19 cases without enough staff to keep up. take care of them.

“If we start hitting high numbers again, it will be a serious problem and it’s not just in a local hospital, it’s all hospitals,” Chhogala said.

“I don’t want to scare anyone, it’s just the reality now. The nurses are tired.”


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