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B.C. doctors, nurses face ongoing burnout as demand rises with COVID-19 cases

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Nov 13, 2020 at 12:17 pm PST

FILE - A nurse who is working during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto. (Steve Russell via Getty Images)
Summary

Front-line heath-care workers struggle with burnout as demand rises in the second wave of COVID-19 in B.C.

40 per cent of nurses are reporting serious depression and 60 per cent are on track to have PTSD: BCNU

The president of Doctors of BC says physician burnout was an issue before the pandemic and it’s only getting worse

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The soaring case numbers in B.C.’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are taking a toll on the frontline medical staff facing a continual state of burnout.

Healthcare workers are trying to support their own well-being amid rising demand as coronavirus hospitalizations and daily case numbers have peaked again, and while health officials plead with everyone to help bend the curve back down.

Modelling data released Thursday also shows coronavirus infections are doubling about every 13 days, meaning the roughly 500 cases a day could near 1,000 by the end of the month.

Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of BC, says physician burnout was an issue before the pandemic and it’s only getting worse.

“We need to continue to recognize that as we head into this second wave, many of us are still recovering from the first wave,” she says.

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Now doctors are worried about their safety as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, Ross adds.

“The pandemic has certainly required all frontline providers, including physicians, to step up to the plate and access our surge capacity, that ability to step forward and work harder.”

‘Our nurses are not healthy right now’

Forty per cent of nurses are reporting serious depression and 60 per cent are on track to have post-traumatic stress disorder, says Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses Union.

“Our nurses are not healthy right now, they are overtaxed, they’re emotionally distressed, trying to manage all of the personal and professional implications of COVID that all of us are managing,” she says. “Plus, they need to go to work and be exposed to COVID.”

Nurses are also managing longer days and working overtime “trying to keep the [healthcare] system afloat,” Sorensen adds.

She says they need time to rest and recover, but due to a shortage of nurses in the province, this isn’t happening.

“They’re burning out, they’re getting sick,” Sorensen says.

There’s added concern about what the shortage could mean in intensive care units if the virus were to get out of hand, she says.

More support is necessary, not only emotional support from the public, but the government needs to step in to get frontline workers the help they’ve been asking for, Sorensen argues.

“For actual frontline supports for nurses, violence prevention, protect nurses in the workplaces so they are not victims of violence,” she says, adding the province needs to ensure unfettered access to personal protective equipment and to “pay nurses what they’re worth.”

-with files from Paul James