COVID-19: Fears mount of gutted front lines as the pandemic wears on
Many B.C. care workers, nurses, teachers, paramedics pondering retirement or a career change
For staff and leaders in long term care homes like Lenore Pickering, the CEO of Hawthorne Seniors Care Community in Port Coquitlam, the pandemic has been a traumatic experience that they expect to carry with them for years.
“We are absolutely physically and emotionally burned out, for sure. One of the most difficult things I ever did was having to tell family that someone had passed away on our watch from COVID,” Pickering said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Pickering said people within her team and the wider care community have been contemplating retirement or a career change, “but then we show up on Monday morning.”
“I think for all of us, nobody wants to abandon ship, if you will. We don’t want to leave things while people are at risk. But I think as the pandemic winds down, you will see people make personal choices.”
Terry Lake, the head of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said there’s enough talk of people leaving, and particularly those in management roles, that it has become worrying.
“We’re going to lose a significant portion of our leadership if we’re not careful,” Lake said. “People on the front lines, they’re getting recognized with better pay, but … we’ve got managers, for instance, that are making less than the people they supervise.”
Last month, the B.C. Teachers Federation surveyed its members and found a third of in-person teachers who responded were considering leaving the profession within the next two years because of their experience during the pandemic. Older and younger members were most likely to say this, the results showed. The teachers federation chalked the findings up to increased workload coupled with the stress and anxiety of not feeling safe at work, and termed the situation “a deepening crisis.”
Teri Mooring, the president of the BCTF, said teachers have shown elevated stress levels for some time, and connected that, in part, to what she characterized as insufficient health and safety measures in place in classrooms.
Intensifying such measures now is “critical for addressing urgent understaffing issues … and contributing to a long-term post-pandemic retention strategy,” the survey found.
Jennifer Whiteside, the education minister, said her ministry is working with health care partners to get more mental health supports for those working in schools.
“I am very aware that educators and staff in schools didn’t expect to find themselves on the front lines of a pandemic,” Whiteside said.
Christine Sorensen, the president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, has the sense from recent surveys and from personal conversations that many nurses are considering leaving the profession as a result of the pandemic.
“I anecdotally have heard from many people who have said I can’t do this anymore, I’m retiring,” she said. “I think it’s sad because previously people would retire and have an interest in perhaps coming back in a casual or on-call basis just to support the occasional shift. What I’m hearing is people are, no, I’m done. Like, I’m done and I can’t go back.”
Sorensen said as little as a few months into the pandemic nurses were showing signs of post traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m very concerned about the next while.”
Troy Clifford, the provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C., said many of his members are experiencing what he called “compassion fatigue,” and it, combined with a heavy workload and staffing shortages, is leading some — including younger paramedics — to question whether the job is worth it.
“For the first time in my career, and I’ve been in 33 years, I’m seeing people questioning whether this is the career they want anymore,” Clifford said.