'They are drowning': Sask. hospital workers under immense strain during COVID-19

As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to grow across Saskatchewan, health-care workers are growing increasingly concerned about their workload.

ICU nurse says colleagues considering leaving profession

Workers at Saskatchewan hospitals are feeling overwhelmed with a new surge of COVID-19 patients. (Shutterstock / Chaikom)

As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to grow across Saskatchewan, health-care workers are growing increasingly concerned about their workload.

On Wednesday, there were 224 people in hospital across the province with COVID-19, along with 4,016 known active cases provincewide.

"Emerg[ency] is swamped," said Shawn Toovey, an intensive care unit nurse at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.

"They are drowning. They have people leaving the profession. People are just done with it, they're moving on to other areas."

Speaking to CBC Radio's Blue Sky, Toovey said an influx of patients means more and more work for staff.

"We are working overtime," said Toovey.

"We're taking assignments that we usually would just think were ridiculous before it became normal.… And it's just the way it is."

LISTEN | Health-care workers spoke about burnout on CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky 
What's it like to be a frontline healthcare worker during the 4th wave of the pandemic? We heard from Saskatoon ICU nurse Shawn Toovey about what his job is like day to day, Dr Riayan Chowdhury, an ICU doctor from Edmonton who wrote an opinion piece for CBC, Dr. Susan Shaw an ICU doctor and a Chief Medical Officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and nurse Jasmine Nottenboom. We also heard from many people who have loved ones working in the field and heard about the toll this pandemic is taking on them. 50:06

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has set a target of having a total of 130 intensive care unit beds in the province, up from the current 79.

Toovey said that means staff will be moved from other parts of the health-care system, which means more cancelled procedures.

"They're going to have people who've been waiting for two years for knee replacement or keep on waiting. Hip replacements, cancer surgeries, organ donations, receiving an organ, those things are going to be shut down," he said. 

"It's exhausting. It's heartbreaking." 

Dr. Susan Shaw says it was disheartening to see protesters outside hospitals in Saskatoon. (Zoom)

Protest problems

Dr. Susan Shaw, chief medical officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said recent protests at hospitals have affected her more than she thought they would.

While she knew the protests were coming, she didn't expect them to impact patients and families.

"It was really quite devastating," she said.

"I actually could hear families being distressed about having to drop off or pick up their loved one in the middle of a protest. And I think that is just not right."

Shaw is an ICU doctor and has worked long hours during the pandemic.

She said it's difficult to see the spread of COVID-19 when it's clear following health guidelines would significantly slow down the spread of COVID-19.

"We're 18 months into this and we know how to control this," she said.

"And we're still seeing spread. There's a level of frustration and also perplexity like, why? Why are we in this situation?"

Shaw said that people wearing masks and getting vaccinated would have a huge impact on the spread of COVID-19.

She wants to see the provincial government take a firmer role in COVID-19 policy.

"I think one of the things we need is we need a consistent response and a consistent approach to things like masking and the requirements for vaccines to be able to enter spaces such as restaurants or entertainment activities."

With files from Nichole Huck, Blue Sky


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