Almost half of Canadian health-care workers involved in the coronavirus crisis feel they need mental health help, according to the results of a recent survey.
In the survey, conducted April 1-6 by Montreal research firm Potloc and the Canadian Public Health Association — a non-profit public health advocate — 47 per cent of health-care workers surveyed said they needed psychological support.
Forty-five per cent of respondents also felt they needed more training, and 40 per cent said they needed more medical staff at their facilities.
While most of the survey was multiple-choice, the 578 health-care workers who responded made over 3,200 responses to eight open-ended questions asking about their experiences.
One frequent theme in those answers was the apparent disconnect between front-line health-care workers and their administrators.
One Ontario nurse commented:
“Within my organization, due to different sources including WHO, CDC, and local health authorities having different (infection prevention and control) recommendations, there is a sense of mistrust brewing between front-line care staff and the administrative upper management.
“Care workers have been feeling the burden of dangerously worsening patient workloads and resources for years, and feel scared about meeting the needs of their patients and keeping themselves and their families safe. Despite all of this, I still hear laughter and singing in the hallways on the units and staff putting on a brave and reassuring approach with patients and their worried families.
“We talk about how we can support each other and how we will make taking on more hours work, because we know it is needed.”
Another Ontario nurse described a typical day at work:
“I get up at 5:15 a.m. after having slept on a cot in the den to self-isolate. I get to work at 6:40 and after entering hospital and being screened for symptoms and given a mask, I report to the main ICU unit to find out what unit I will be working in.
“The day is busy, there is always work to be done, whether caring for your own patient or helping your co-workers. The patients are sicker … there seems to be no “downtime” for staff. Isolation protocols are now implemented for most patients and this adds to staff discomfort and fatigue (it is HOT in all that gear for 12+ hours a day)!
“There are many more emergency situations (crashing patients) and the pressure on all medical and hospital staff seems to be increasing daily. Through it all, we continue to support one another and continue to try and smile, share a laugh and lots of tears. We are a team.”
Surveys were sent via Facebook and LinkedIn to Canadians self-identifying as health-care workers. Initial respondents were filtered down to 578 actively involved in providing coronavirus health-care services.
Respondents to the survey were mostly from Ontario (38 per cent), primarily female (90 per cent), between 35 and 44 years old (30 per cent) and largely nurses (52 per cent). Because samples were not gathered in a fashion that would give all members of the population an equal chance of being selected, a margin of error cannot be applied to the results.
In response to questions about their current work situation, health-care workers described feeling anxious, unsafe, overwhelmed, helpless, sleep-deprived and discouraged.
They also said they were generally unsatisfied with the behaviour of the public during the epidemic.
“I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association. “This is completely consistent with what we’re hearing from our members.
“People were telling me they were frightened, they were telling us that they were scared. There was concern about the surge in the number of patients that would come in with serious COVID-19 illness, and there was uncertainty and fear about the lack of personal protective equipment.”
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However, Buchman said that anecdotally, it appears his colleagues this week are a little calmer than at the beginning of the month. He attributes that to an apparent flattening of the infection curve and the fact that the predicted surge of patients has not yet arrived.
“Those numbers don’t surprise me at all,” said Vicki McKenna, a registered nurse and provincial president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. “It’s physically and mentally exhausting and that does take a toll. Some of them are feeling it, particularly for those who are working directly with COVID patients, or in COVID units.”
“To be honest with you, nurses and health-care workers don’t look after themselves. They make sure everything else is done, everyone else is looked after, until they finally get around to themselves. And that’s one thing that we are very conscious of: encouraging them to be conscious of each other and talk about making sure they look after themselves.”
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