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Quebec Healthcare workers experience burnout amid COVID-19, with no end in sight

Quebec healthcare workers predict a "mass exodus" from the health-care network unless the situation changes fast.
Collin Jones The Post Millennial

While she has spent over a month on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, Julia, a speech pathologist, sees no end in sight as the army is withdrawing soldiers who were deployed to the long-term care facilities where she is working.

As of late April, Julia was one of almost 1,300 "involuntary deployments"—people in health-care-related professions sent out to work in long-term care facilities in an effort to make up for the critical shortage of staff as the pandemic tore through them.

Nearly 5,000 Quebecers have died at the hands of the coronavirus, with 68 percent of them being members of long-term care facilities, known as CHSLDs, according to CBC News.

And as spring quickly turns into summer, Julia wonders when she will be able to return to the work she loves and was trained to do.

"I think about quitting every day, and I don't think I'm the only one, Julia said.

Speech therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, and psychologists are among those who have been reassigned to work as aids in Montreal and Laval during the pandemic.

These deployments are overseen by the individual regional health boards. Some of them, including the CISSS de Laval CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal and CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, have planned to place staff back into their regular jobs in the upcoming weeks.

But there are others, such as health agencies responsible for the West Island, West-Central Montreal and the eastern part of the Island of Montreal, who are suggesting that those workers are still needed in long-term care facilities.

The conditions have improved in the CHSLD where Julia is currently assigned to work, and COVID has stabilized. And she has managed to develop relationships with her patients.

But some of her colleagues at the CIUSSS. Centre-Ouest Montréal have received rotation schedules at long-term care facilities that go into 2021.

And when Julia saw those schedules, her morale sunk.

"Honestly, I think that the whole rehab sector is going to be completely destroyed," she said.

"I do think a lot of people are going to leave," she said. She added that she worries about physiotherapy and speech pathology patients, when so many who should be taking care of them have had to provide coronavirus relief.

Julia's employer, the CIUSSS Centre-Ouest Montréal, would not comment on the existence of those schedules, but said that it's "very difficult to predict how the situation will evolve."

"We anticipate a potential second wave of the pandemic in the fall," said spokesperson Jennifer Timmons. "However, we must also plan for the gradual return of services in our other sites appropriately."

A social worker in Montreal's east end named Rita is now on stress leave from her mandatory deployment to a CHSLD and has plans to exit the healthcare field altogether.

While she was reassigned in late April to a home that did not have many COVID-19 cases, it became a hot zone by mid-May.

Residents of the facility were confined to their rooms—causing confusion and nervousness at the idea that they would not be able to see their families.

"They were suffering quite a bit," Rita said.

Rita went on to say that she believes she is suffering from post-traumatic stress. It even got to the point where she wished she would just catch the disease so that she would not have to come back. She left her job soon after.

"I'm so angry with the situation. I'm so angry at [Quebec Premier François] Legault for cutting our wings, we so-called 'guardian angels,'" she said.

Rita's employer, the CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, said that it is doing its best to support its staff through the crisis.

"We are aware that some workers may have been especially affected by certain situations experienced in CHSLDs and other services," spokesperson Christian Merciari wrote in a statement.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees—the union that represents Rita—says that there are many workers who are going through burnout. CUPE says in Rita's region alone, there are a dozen complaints from workers who have been forced to work against their will amid the pandemic.

CUPE has plans to file complaints with Quebec's workplace health and safety board, the CNESST. It states that people are not adequately trained for the work they are being forced to do.

Julia has predicted a "mass exodus" from the health-care network unless the situation changes fast.

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