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Pandemic continues with unrelenting demands, high levels of staff burnout

Posted May 30th, 2022

This is an opinion column by Niagara Health President and Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Guerriero published in the St. Catharines StandardNiagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune

For many reasons, the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most difficult for our hospital team at Niagara Health.

Our staff and physicians are experiencing a high level of burnout and stress due to the unrelenting demands of the previous five waves.

Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, and I am mindful that the Niagara community is also feeling exhausted and stressed: worries about their health and the health of their families and friends; grief for those they have lost; work-related issues; escalating gas, food and housing costs, among other issues. Our teams are not immune to these stressors as well.

At Niagara Health, we regularly thank our teams for their sacrifices and do what we can to support them with wellness programming through this uniquely challenging time. Saying “thank you” will never be enough to demonstrate how much we appreciate their efforts to put aside their own needs to provide safe, quality care to our patients and their families.

There has been immense support for our teams from the Niagara community since the pandemic began, which is greatly appreciated. For healthcare workers, the pandemic is not over, and they still need that support.

Although we are not seeing the same number of patients being treated for COVID-19 during the height of this wave, the number of patient cases continues to be significant, and is in addition to our regular patient volumes.

At the best of times, hospitals can be very stressful places, stressful to work in and stressful for patients and their families dealing with fear and uncertainty. We see this in every area of the hospital, and especially in our emergency departments (EDs). Our physicians and staff are experiencing daily pressures beyond anything they have experienced before, and our patients and families are experiencing longer wait times and overcrowded conditions. In April, for example, most patients who required admission from our ED to an inpatient bed waited about 91 hours for that bed. Our paramedic colleagues cared for patients they brought to our EDs for 3.5 hours before being able to transfer them to the care of our ED team.

The pandemic has dramatically underscored gaps that exist within the healthcare system in Niagara and the ability for primary care, home and community care, long-term care and hospital care to function together as one team. On any given day at Niagara Health, we have up to 100 patients waiting in hospital beds because there is limited access to home care and long-term care in the community. We have people coming to the ED for care because they do not have a family physician or other primary care provider. These are among the external factors that contribute to longer wait times in our EDs.

All of this creates additional pressures for our teams and hardships for our patients seeking care. Our team members are stretched beyond the limit on a daily basis, which is impacting the care they are able to provide. They know you are waiting longer for care and your surgeries are being delayed. They’re frustrated and disappointed that the pandemic has made it so difficult for them to provide the best possible care. They are doing the best they can in trying circumstances. I am proud of them for their dedication to patients, and our leadership team will continue to support them.

No one could have predicted the twists and turns this pandemic would take. It has been ruthless and divisive, and now we find ourselves looking for ways to adjust to COVID-19 as a permanent fixture in our lives.

We are entering a new era of the pandemic, where the pressures, although different, are intense. We are working on solutions but there is no quick fix to bring relief to the healthcare system and staffing shortages.

Being kind is a core value at Niagara Health. We are all here for each other, to give and receive the best care possible. In this environment, it’s more important than ever that we are patient with one another and show each other kindness and respect.

Niagara Health System