B.C. health-care workers 'at the end of their ropes' as 1 in 4 consider quitting, union says
60% of respondents say working in health care throughout the pandemic has increased burnout
As B.C. endures a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many health-care workers want out.
A recent internal survey by the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) — which has 50,000 members working in health care — found that one in four, or about 12,500, are considering quitting within the next two years as a direct result of the pandemic.
Union spokesperson Mike Old says if this happens the province will have to grapple with the increased strain on the health-care system.
"While working in health care has always been pretty stressful … there were some significant staffing challenges throughout the system even before the pandemic hit, but there's really no question [that] the pandemic has really compounded some of those issues," Old said.
According to the survey, 60 per cent of union members say the pandemic has increased burnout, anxiety and fatigue as well as impacting their mental health. Two-thirds of respondents say their workload has increased during the course of the pandemic.
"Health-care workers really are at the end of their ropes right now," said Old.
In the Interior, the twin emergencies of persistent wildfires and rising COVID-19 cases have left many nurses overwhelmed and leaving their jobs, with reports that around two-thirds of emergency room nurses at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops have quit in recent months due to stress and burnout.
It is not just hospital workers who are struggling, either. The HEU has workers in a wide variety of health-care sectors, including cleaners, lab assistants and pharmacy and X-ray assistants.
Old says a number of those in long-term care and assisted-living struggled after the province brought in rules forbidding employees from working at multiple facilities, resulting in an increased workload, which, he says, was a necessary but difficult policy.
"We strongly supported it, but it does have some consequences."
Old says there have been good pandemic initiatives to attract new health-care workers, like the Health Career Access Program, which was used to recruit and provide training for health-care support workers.
However, he says, most people taking part in the program are already working in hospitals to some degree, often in food or custodial services.
Old says he worries that post-pandemic, recruiting initiatives will slow which may keep workers in a cycle of understaffing and burnout.
"It's just so important that they find some relief in the future."
Aman Grewal, vice-president of the B.C. Nurses' Union, says staffing shortages have forced some nurses to return from vacation early to cover shifts.
She said a June 2020 study revealed that four out of 10 nurses in B.C. reported "severe depression" and 60 per cent reported having "emotional exhaustion."
"We have Saanich Peninsula Hospital, last weekend, that had to close over the weekend because they didn't have enough nurses on to run the shift," she told CBC's The Early Edition.
Grewal also said similar staffing crunches were reported at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Victoria General Hospital. The issue is systemic, she says.
"It has not, for decades, been a priority to provide new nursing seats, new programs throughout the province," she said. "There are not enough seats in this province."
Grewal said she had heard of waitlists stretching as long as eight years, and asked the provincial government to look at integrating new nursing schools with existing hospitals.
With files from On The Island and The Early Edition