AFP, published on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 at 06:16
In Canada, a critical nursing shortage is forcing many emergency departments to temporarily close, putting additional pressure on an overstretched health care system.
Professional wear and tear due to the pandemic, mistreatment of patients or even salary dissatisfaction are reasons that push these caregivers to leave en masse.
“Nurses are detached, demoralized and desperate,” said Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA). “The situation is critical,” adds the practitioner with 20 years of experience.
Since the beginning of the summer, there have been ten emergency services that have been forced to close for a night, a weekend or even longer due to a lack of caregivers.
Added to this are increasingly longer waiting times, up to 12, 16, 20 hours before being examined. .
Gripped by extreme pain related to blood in her urine, 32-year-old Amélie Inard experienced this during her recent “really slow” ER visit in Montreal.
It’s “crazy tonight,” a nurse responded, asking her in the process to describe her symptoms “in one sentence, real quick, because we’re so busy.”
Frustrated, she left without seeing a doctor.
This patient frustration combined with an increasingly heavy workload is causing an uptick in violence against medical staff, warns the ONA president.
A violence that several nurses interviewed by AFP confirmed having experienced in the form of punches, scratches, spitting, but also the throwing of trays, plates or even excrement.
– ‘Unhealthy working conditions’ –
In the capital, Ottawa, the crisis is such that it is no longer surprising that there is no ambulance available, because they are stuck in the emergency room, unable to discharge their previous patients. Between January and July, this scenario was repeated more than 1,000 times.
Last week, a hospital in Peterborough, east of Toronto, was forced to treat patients on stretchers in the parking lot due to lack of interior space, says Cathryn Hoy.
In the neighboring province of Manitoba, Dr. Merril Pauls says emergency beds had to be closed “several times” this summer due to a lack of nurses.
One Sunday, “we were literally forced to group several patients in critical condition in the same recovery room,” he laments.
“Our nurses are really working in crazy conditions,” says the doctor indignantly, adding that it is a “major phenomenon that is happening throughout the country” and that “it continues to get worse.”
– High rotation –
A recent survey by Canada’s largest union, CUPE, revealed that 87% of nurses have considered leaving their jobs “because of unrewarding and exhausting working conditions.”
“Even recent graduates resign,” says the president of the ONA.
Although its powers in this area are limited, the federal government recently committed to facilitating the recognition of foreign credentials to help 11,000 immigrant doctors and nurses fill the gaps: 34,400 nursing positions are vacant.
But lack of staff is not the only reason behind the problems in hospitals.
Many Canadians, like Amélie Inard, have no choice but to go to the emergency room because they don’t have a GP, further clogging the system.
“It’s so hard to find a doctor,” she says.
Added to this is the recurring shortage of beds, which often leads to long waits to transfer patients from the emergency room to the different departments.
In response, Ontario, the country’s most populous province, passed a bill in late September authorizing the transfer of patients awaiting long-term care to facilities up to 150 kilometers away.
A measure that will “relieve pressure on overburdened emergency services,” advances the provincial government, but will also force the elderly to live far from their loved ones, critics respond.
Although most people who need treatment will eventually be seen, delays can have long-term repercussions, such as a stroke, Dr. Pauls notes.
The situation is such that the confidence of patients begins to erode, continues the doctor. He remembers that he always told them “to come back if things get worse.”
“But now they are laughing at us,” he says. “They say, ‘You’re crazy. There’s no way I’m going to go through this again.’