A GROWING NUMBER OF ONTARIO NURSES ARE STRUGGLING TO COPE WITH THE DEMANDS PLACED ON THEM AS THE PANDEMIC LINGERS ON, ACCORDING TO TWO NEW SURVEYS.
• Pam Parks says she has a routine to pick herself up before she starts every one of her 12-hour hospital shifts these days.
The registered practical nurse drives the five minutes to work at an Oshawa, Ont., hospital with her car radio turned up and sings along in a bid to lift her spirits.
She tries to take her mind, ever so briefly, off the stress, uncertainty and large workload that awaits her in the emergency room that day, as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic rages.
Even after 33 years in the profession, Parks said the pandemic has opened her eyes to the fragility of our health-care system and the distress both she and her fellow nurses feel.
“I get into the parking lot and sit, and regroup,” she said, acknowledging that some days it's hard to go into work. “I hope that today will be a better day than it was yesterday,” she said she tells herself. “I hope for a better day for everyone.”
Parks is not alone in her struggles to cope according to a new survey conducted by Oraclepoll Research for the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a separate survey conducted by the Service Employees International Union.
Both polls were released by the unions Sunday.
The Oraclepoll of 2,600 registered practical nurses that belong to CUPE across the province showed that more than half of those surveyed said they were coping “poorly” or “extremely poorly” at work over the past year of the pandemic.
Just over 80 per cent reported that their workload had “increased a lot,” and 86 per cent said they believed the potential for medical errors has increased over the past 12 months.
Over 90 per cent are worried about bringing COVID-19 home to their families, and 70 per cent reported facing increased violence from patients and their families.
It has led 30 per cent of the workers surveyed to consider leaving the profession, the poll showed.
A study of over 550 registered practical nurses conducted by the Service Employees International Union reflected similar levels of burnout.
The internal research by the union found that 94 per cent of RPNs experience working short regularly, and 72 per cent believe staffing is insufficient.
Parks said the pandemic is having a profound effect on morale, and she's seeing it play out every shift.
Nurses who were already working short in many instances are now taking on additional duties to help connect families barred from hospitals because of COVID-19 restrictions, she said.
“We, as nurses, we're not only now looking after patients' health care, but we're also their support service.
“We're holding their hands and watching some who are at their last stage of life, trying to make sure they're not alone.”
Ashley MacRae, an RPN at a hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont., said the survey results ring true to her.
“When you're giving everything you can, and it's not enough anymore, it's exhausting,” she said. “I just feel like when I talk to my co-workers, they're burned out, they're done.”
MacRae said registered practical nurses are making less than their registered nurse colleagues, and with the extreme workload and stress, many are looking for other jobs.
She also worries that trauma experienced by RPNs during the pandemic will be felt for years, as they struggle with their mental health.
“A lot of the nurses I don't think will ever recover from seeing all of the loss and having to move on to the next loss and having to move on to the next patient and having to continue going on,” she said.
Oraclepoll Research said its telephone survey was conducted from March 29 to April 3, and has a margin of error of 1.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.