'Exhausted, scared': Front line workers burnt out in fourth wave, says doctor

As hospitalizations reach levels not seen since early 2021, advocates say nurses and front line workers are burnt out.

Sask. records 228 hospitalizations, most since early February

COVID-19 is burning out frontline workers as the province heads deeper into the fourth wave of the pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on through a fourth, intense wave in the province, front line hospital staff are running on empty tanks. 

Modelling from Public Health Agency of Canada released in early September shows provinces west and includes Quebec, are experiencing an increase in cases and hospitalizations. In Saskatchewan there are 228 hospitalizations as of Saturday.

It's the highest number of hospitalizations since early February.

According to government population estimates from April 2021, and current hospitalizations, Saskatchewan has about 19.3 people hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100,000 people. About three in four of those are not fully vaccinated. 

In Ontario, there are about 2.2 people in hospital per 100,000. 

Front line workers have voiced their distress at hospitals filling up. Advocates warn of the toll it may have on the health care sector

"We do not have the capacity and the workforce to deal with COVID and at the same time provide critical care to non-COVID patients," said Dr. Ann Collins, former president of the Canadian Medical Association. 

"Very simply put, the long-term consequence is if we do not have a healthy health care workforce, we are not going to have health care."

In a document which was obtained by CBC News, projections shared before a virtual town hall with physicians Thursday night indicated that Saskatchewan could see a rolling seven-day average of 125 infected people in ICUs by Sept. 30. 

On Sept. 10, the province announced it would reduce non-elective and non-critical services to expand surge capacity for hospitals, including an increase in Intensive Care Unit beds to 130 beds, up from 79. That's to accomodate a projected 80 patients with COVID-19 and 50 without. 

Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease specialist, told CBC News that the "capacity to create additional surge beds — and, more importantly, staff those beds — is really, really limited."

Collins told CBC's Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning that the health care system already had problems, which were exacerbated by COVID-19. She said the system needs to change, and motioned to political leaders as those who need to address deficiencies in the health care system. 

On top of that and crowded hospitals, nurses have had to deal with protests outside hospitals in Saskatchewan during the province's fourth wave. 

"They're exhausted; they're frustrated; and now, unfortunately, in some instances, to add to all of that worry, they are scared," Collins said. 

"They're not only facing internal pressures in their workplace, but in some parts of our country [they're] facing really unfortunate and misinformed challenges to get inside or outside of their work."

With files from Guy Quenneville, Julia Peterson and CBC's Saskatoon Morning