Study examines challenges faced by health care workers in the COVID pandemic

Natali Trivuncic
Staff Writer

A new academic study released on Monday in northwestern Ontario finds health care staff are over-worked and facing psychological distress during the pandemic.

Dr. James Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith, academic researchers affiliated with the University of Windsor, led the investigative study on health care workers’ experiences in Ontario’s hospitals and long-term care homes.

The study Sacrificed: Ontario Healthcare Workers in the Time of COVID-19 comes as the second wave lockdown begins in areas of the province.

Nurses, personal support workers, custodians and other Ontario front-line health care workers were interviewed for the study. The report said workers felt they were being ‘sacrificed’ by governments.

The research aims to look at how the systemic weaknesses in Ontario’s health system adversely impacted front-line health workers during the first wave of the pandemic.

During the months of April and May, Brophy and Keith conducted in-depth, anonymous interviews with 10 front-line health care workers from hospitals and long-term care facilities across the province.

“The interviews took place in real time as the pandemic was approaching,” Brophy said. “Words on a page do not convey the level of emotion we heard in the voices of health care workers.”

Brophy added that workers also voiced their anger and desperation with one health care worker even breaking down crying during the interview.

Co-author Michael Hurley said that the study findings lead to important recommendations for the province moving forward.

The recommendations from the study include raising staffing levels in hospitals and in long-term care, legislated protection to allow staff to speak out about conditions without being reprimanded, providing access to protective equipment, greater support from management and access to mental health supports.

The study released Monday by Brophy and Keith is the third in a series of articles about Ontario health care workers that have involved over 100 interviews over the span of three years. The first two studies focused on violence against health care staff.

The research was done in collaboration with the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions-Union of Public Employees (OCHU-CUPE). OCHU-CUPE conducted a poll done in March involving 3000 members about their concerns regarding their safety.

According to the polling, the majority felt that they were not being adequately protected. Eighty-seven per cent said there is not enough personal protective equipment on hand to keep them safe and 91 per cent said that they feel abandoned by the provincial government.

“You’d think we would be doing better by now,” Keith said. “We’ve had months between the first wave and this wave and we have not really improved much at all, in fact, in some ways I think things are getting worse.”

Keith adds that there is a real concern for the healthcare system as workers are ‘burning out’ and staffing levels have not improved.