British Columbia

COVID restrictions are lifting, but can B.C.'s health-care workers recover?

For the past two years, health-care professionals in the hospital intensive care units across B.C. have been stretched to the limit during wave after wave of COVID-19, which has left many experiencing mental health challenges and burnout.

Health-care workers at Royal Columbian Hospital say the pandemic is not over for them

A nurse in a blue medical mask looks away from the camera in a hospital room.
Nurse Dave Riar checks on a patient in the intensive care unit at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., on March 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For the past two years, health-care professionals in the hospital intensive care units across B.C. have been stretched to the limit during wave after wave of COVID-19, which has left many experiencing mental health challenges and burnout.

"The last two years have really taken a toll on me and the rest of my health-care staff," said Stephanie Stanton, a respiratory therapist at Royal Columbian Hospital.

"I think there has been little to no recognition for services on our mental health to help us get through this time period and I think the public is kind of feeling that this pandemic is over, but for us, it's still a reality."

Stanton said the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on her and she's been experiencing compassion fatigue.

Stephanie Stanton, a respiratory therapist, sets up a ventilator in the ICU at the Royal Columbian Hospital on March 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I'm not sure how many more waves we're going to go through but it's been really tough," Stanton said. "It's difficult when you're seeing so much trauma in a short amount of time, to continue to feel compassionate toward your patients.

A poll conducted by the B.C. Hospital Employees Union (BCHEU) found a third of health-care workers in the province want to quit their job in the next two years.

Stanton said she's not surprised to see others wanting to leave their careers, as she too has been considering doing the same.

"I came into this role thinking that this was going to be a long-term position for me and I've already started to look at other options," she said.

"And many of the staff I work with have confided in me and told me that they're also looking elsewhere for other positions."

Effects of the pandemic 

David Riar, an intensive care unit nurse at Royal Columbian Hospital, says while there has been a decrease in patients with COVID-19, the physical and mental burnout and challenges of working through a pandemic still linger among colleagues and hospital staff.

Dr. Steven Reynolds makes his rounds of the ICU at Royal Columbian on March 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We're reduced to pretty much one or two people now that have COVID, so that's good," said Riar.

"There's experiences of clumping patients into rooms together ... not getting enough breaks and trying to make sure you're nourished and mentally going on and on — some of those images are embedded in my head," he said.

Watch | Inside the COVID ward at Royal Columbian Hospital:

A look inside Royal Columbian Hospital's COVID ward

1 year ago
Duration 5:22
COVID-19 case numbers are going down in B.C. but intensive care units in some hospitals are still overflowing with patients. Our Belle Puri shares a rare look inside Royal Columbian Hospital.

'Burden was too tough'

Steven Reynolds, a physician at Royal Columbian Hospital, says one of the challenges he experienced was staying mentally healthy while working long hours at the hospital.

"I stepped away from one of my leadership roles because the burden was too tough," said Reynolds. "Often health-care workers are not explicit when they need help."

He said the toughest moment for him was when crowds of people opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations clogged the streets of Vancouver and demonstrated outside hospitals across the province.

"To get a sense that somehow we're holding the negative information or doing negative things to our patients, really got to the core of our values," said Reynolds. 

"So that was a tough moment."

Reynolds said after two years of the pandemic, he's learned how to deal with the stress of being on the front-lines in the fight against COVID-19.

"I found the only way I could really deal with it at this point in my professional career is to just step back. I'm just doing the job ... and I'm always going to be doing my work, so I don't really want to get too focused on other stuff."

With files from Belle Puri


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