As the Ontario government increases efforts to recruit more nursing staff, some current and former employees say they are still struggling to cope with physical and mental trauma from the last 19 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province announced Wednesday that it is allocating up to $ 270 million to hire more than 4,000 nurses by the end of the fiscal year.
Hiring new recruits does not solve complex problems that have been put in focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers told CBC News.
And at a rally organized by the Ontario Health Coalition to highlight continuing problems in long-term care, those already on the front lines expressed the pandemic has pushed them to their limit.
“You feel helpless and hopeless,” said one registered nurse who has worked in the sector for 40 years and is currently employed at a home run by Sienna Living in eastern Ontario.
She said she spent a month in the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19 last year, which included a few weeks on intensive care.
“I remember they said ‘double pneumonia’ and I had blood infections … and every system in my body was well attacked,” said the nurse, who spoke to CBC on a condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from her employer.
Plowing through feelings of anger
Still tired, and sometimes short of breath, she says she went back to work too soon.
“We knew our friends needed us … Now PSWs are working on double shifts. The workload is intense because we lack so much staff. But they do not want us to say it. To try to get new people is so difficult. ”
Outbreaks are now rare in long-term care and nursing homes, but understaffing, constant overtime and care for sometimes acutely ill residents remains a common event that takes a toll, even without fear of COVID, according to other workers who spoke to CBC.
“You just kept plowing through feelings of anger … Feelings of sadness because you felt you could not protect everyone,” the Sienna nurse said.
The effects of COVID on her and her colleagues have ranged from constant migraines to chronic rashes to relapses.
The workers said they want to see more full-time, permanent jobs, better wages and benefits promised by the Ontario government.
SE | Personal Support Officer Crescencio Resendiz ‘Still Sore Every Day’:
Nearly 1,000 Ottawa workers have had COVID-19
In Ottawa alone, close to 1,000 nursing home workers have received COVID-19, according to data from Ottawa Public Health.
Some, including personal support staff member Crescencio Resendiz, have not returned to work.
Resendiz, who works at a home run by Revera, contracted the virus last January during the second wave and is still suffering from symptoms.
“It gets very difficult sometimes,” he said, breathing deeply.
“I still have pain every day. Before COVID I had no eye problems, but since COVID I now have a chronic eye infection and what’s really bad, I feel so much pain and I get headaches that are awful.”
Resendiz also said he has not received financial aid from the government or his employer for several months.
Speaking at the rally this week wearing an N-95 mask that he could not secure at the height of his home outburst, Resendiz sounded defeated.
“When you do not have the equipment and you do not have the support and you do not have the staff, it is very difficult to provide the care you need to provide there,” he told the crowd.
Resendiz is based in Mexico and points out that he works with other immigrants to Canada. Some are afraid to ask questions of managers when they see conditions that are unsafe for workers or residents, he said.
‘The worst nursing experience’
While health deters Resendiz from returning to work, a nurse who received COVID at another Revera home says she could not stay in her job.
“I would never wish that on anyone,” she said. “It was the worst nursing experience I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I would never want anyone to ever go through that.”
RN has worked in nursing homes and hospitals throughout Ontario, she said, and recently left Revera, but she does not want her name revealed so her comments do not affect her employment opportunities.
The nurse says she suffered from COVID at home for a month before returning to work.
“I slept day and night, heavy, heavy, heavy chest. I had the cough. I had nausea and I had diarrhea. I had no sense of smell, no taste. The severe headache,” she recalls.
She blames the home management and lack of provincial oversight for letting the situation get so horrific early in the pandemic.
“There was no cohort, no isolation, and when we started to have some patients who had some respiratory symptoms start to show up in late March, things never changed,” said the nurse, who decided after her recovery could not work there more.
“I did not feel supported by the management. I did not feel supported by our company. It just broke me.”