Sabrina Almeida

In Canada we tend to take our health care system and workers for granted. Hopefully the pandemic has shown us how deeply our well-being is intertwined with that of our medics, especially our nurses who are at the forefront of it all.

Anyone who has been to hospital knows it’s the nurses who keep things running smoothly by helping patients and their families deal with an illness. It’s not just the patients who need them but the doctors too. Sadly, these medical professionals who see us through all our health challenges continue to be invisible and undervalued.

As we mark National Nursing Week and International Nurses Day, let us stand up for these health care soldiers who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Many have not only put their own lives on the line but that of their families as well. 

It’s time #WeAnswerTheCall to do right by them, not just through appreciative words but also by advocating for better working conditions and pay for nursing staff.

Throughout the pandemic, nurses have been like firefighters who run into a burning building while the others are trying to get out. Sure, doctors are important, but we’d never make it without the critical care nurses provide.

An Angus Reid study showed a light at the end of the tunnel. Of 1,520 people polled, eight-in-10 Ontarians (78%) acknowledged that nurses have been undervalued during the pandemic, considerably higher than the national average of 68 percent. Now we just have to act on it.

Many who are grumbling about the lockdown haven’t given much thought to the toll caring for COVID-19 patients has taken on our health care workers. We just expect them to continue doing their job irrespective of the consequences.

If it’s been tough for us, it’s been horrific for them. A first-of-its-kind study on mental disorders among Canada’s nurses released last June, revealed widespread and severe symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, burnout and other conditions. 

Almost a year later, growing caseloads brought on by a second and third wave have only made it worse.

A Statistics Canada survey of 18,000 health-care workers across Canada conducted in February revealed seven in 10 health care workers reported worsening mental health as a result of working through the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the health care workers surveyed, nurses in particular reported declining mental health, with 37% saying they have poor mental health, compared to 27% of physicians. But they’ve had to soldier on!

It’s not just the patients they see suffering or lose that have a negative impact on their mental health but burned out, sick and dying colleagues as well. 

An increased capacity at a hospital usually means the existing staff has to take on a bigger workload. And while the province called for reinforcements from across Canada, many health care workers in hot spot areas have already been stretched beyond their limits.

Worried for their patients, co-workers and families, many have not gone home for many months. The inability to connect with friends and family is pushing them to the brink, Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses Association told a media outlet.

Pushing already burned-out nurses to do more can be disastrous both for them and the patients they care for.

The death of a young man which his family alleges was caused by a Brampton hospital’s negligence, is an example of the devastating consequences of an overburdened health care system.

The 36-year-old who contracted COVID-19 was turned away from the hospital twice, according to his mother’s Facebook post, and his condition worsened significantly leading to his death. She says that while she was on the phone with him, she heard the health care professionals at the hospital telling him to go home and that there were more critical patients who needed their attention 

He is believed to have contracted the coronavirus from his mother who was infected during hospital visits with her terminally-ill mum. Although she was assured her mum was COVID-free, she began to experience symptoms a few days later only to be told that the hospital could have made a mistake with the test results because of the rush around the Good Friday weekend.

While we tend to accept this type of news coming out of India because of its lack of a proper health care infrastructure, it’s hard to believe such a thing can happen in a first world country like Canada.  Yet isn’t that what happened in the United States, France, Italy and Spain when the COVID-19 caseloads overwhelmed the health system.

Given that the health care system and its professionals have been stretched beyond their limits, a lack of resources and burnout could have easily contributed to the death of this young man or the Alberta woman who died of complications after receiving AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Her family too alleges negligence as she was turned away from a hospital. 

The heartbroken mother of the young man shared her story on Facebook to raise awareness about the situation and prevent similar tragedies. Just as the daughter of the Alberta woman spoke out on television.

We can all do our part to help reduce the risk of this happening to more Canadians. 

Get vaccinated and follow COVID-19 health protocol to reduce spread and prevent the health care system and its nurses from being overwhelmed further. Let’s not be selfish! 

And if you know a nurse, tell him/her how much you appreciate the sacrifices they have made during this long drawn out battle with the coronavirus.

 

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