Healthcare story of the year: system and burned out staff stretched to the limit

Healthcare story of the year: system and burned out staff stretched to the limit

Castanet is revisiting the top stories of an eventful 2022. Today, for our healthcare story of the year, we look at the massive challenge facing the system.

The healthcare system continued to take centre stage in 2022, but not just because of COVID-19.

It became apparent that many doctors, nurses and other frontline workers were burned out and frustrated after more than two years of the pandemic. Some stepped back and others left the industry altogether.

That aggravated staffing pressures that had been building for years, caused a whole raft of problems and had a significant impact on morale.

“The healthcare workers, every single time they show up to work they just want to come and do their best possible job at providing patient care. The staff here are so dedicated and so passionate about the care that they deliver, but the fatigue and the burnout is real,” said Jayme Chernoff, executive director of clinical operations at Kelowna General Hospital as the hospital dealt with weeks of over-capacity in November and early December.

A chronic shortage of paramedics started to take a toll on ambulance service in 2022. In Ashcroft, the mayor expressed frustration after a resident died waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance. In Barriere, An eight-month-old baby died during a period of time when there was no ambulance service available for the district.

Staffing shortages also caused repeated closures of hospital emergency rooms in Clearwater, Merritt, Oliver and other communities.

“We’re still seeing those draws into the larger centres from the rural and remote communities and we’re seeing tragedy in wait for ambulances that are affecting patient outcomes. We need to make sure that those central areas are staffed so that we’re not pulling out of Peachland, or Sicamous into Salmon Arm, or Barriere into Kamloops,” said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of Bc, in a year-end interview.

In November, three ambulances that had been staffed in Kelowna during the pandemic were idled. That prompted an outcry from local politicians and the paramedics union, which eventually reached a deal with the provincial government to reinstate the service.

Still, the hits kept coming. An advanced life support unit was relocated by BC EHS from Vernon to Salmon Arm late in the year. Then tragedy struck at Kelowna General Hospital as it dealt with a surge of young patients hit by an early and vicious flu season.

nine-year-old girl died in late November of what her family says was sepsis caused by strep throat. A doctor had sent her home days earlier saying she was suffering symptoms of the flu.

As the pressures on the healthcare system increased, the BC government tried to plug the holes. It announced a new funding deal with doctors and a plan to ramp up the recruitment of more physicians for the nearly one-million British Columbians without a family doctor.

Clifford is hopeful that 2023 will be a better year, as bargaining gets underway for a new contract for BC paramedics.

“That’s a message I’d like to send to the new premier, who has really committed to making 100 days of difference, this is an opportunity for him to make a difference in every person in this province’s life when they need it most.”