The pandemic dragging on for more than a year and a half, the area’s hospitals are shifting gears to deal with staffing issues related to burnout and, to a lesser extent, unvaccinated employees.
At St. Mary’s General Hospital, for instance, there’s a new recruitment program to try to eliminate additional shifts created by pandemic.
Healthcare workers have been working longer hours, additional shifts and feeling fatigued due to the pandemic. Local hospitals have been experiencing a backlog on programs and services they provide for residents and has left staff feeling burnt out as they try to keep up. As the fourth wave continues, vaccination rates are on the rise in the region, leading to fewer COVID patients than Lee Fairclough, president of St. Mary’s, was seeing a couple months ago.
“Certainly, we’ve seen the number of COVID infectious cases come down, which I think has been a positive effect of the vaccine and the ongoing public health measures. We’ve seen reductions in the number of patients coming in and out for COVID. What’s interesting, though, is that we are really seeing a lot of increase in people needing care,” she said.
“The hospital and the emergency department’s really starting to not just reach pre-COVID levels but exceed them, and a lot of that is people that are in need of care. Some people who may have been waiting for care are now becoming more urgent. The sense of kind of busy-ness and how full we are at the hospital has not really changed.”
Fairclough noted that many staff members at St. Mary’s took on additional shifts during the pandemic as they increased the number of beds to keep up with the rising need.
“We’re still at 98 per cent occupancy right now. I do think that people are feeling burnout. And I think that they’re starting to feel that burnout, versus just keeping going. We are working very hard to offer additional support for people’s mental health and well-being to support people in the aftermath. But then we are still feeling the pressures that we’ve got and trying to ensure we can keep up with it.”
At Grand River Hospital, the same issues are at play, and there are also some staff issues due to vaccine compliance. The organization expects some 136 staff and physicians will be placed on unpaid leave or have their privileges suspended unless.
“These team members will have until November 9 to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, at which point their employment status with the hospital will be reviewed and without a valid medical reason for not receiving the vaccine may face termination of employment,” said Jennifer O’Brien, GRH’s vice-president of people, communications and engagement, in a statement.
“We have and will continue to provide vaccine education and support throughout to our team members; 97 per cent of our team members have taken the steps to not only protect themselves and their loved ones, but their co-workers, our patients and our community from this deadly virus. We thank them for their dedication.”
At St. Mary’s, recruitment is key over the coming months, as they open up new training programs to deal with the staffing shortages they face, said Fairclough.
“We are just constantly trying to recruit because one of the things that will make the most difference to people is that when they do come to work that they’ve got the team there that they need and they’re not trying to cover so many additional shifts,” said Fairclough. “We’ve taken steps like increasing the number of full-time versus part-time positions, supporting staff well-being. We do have some new opportunities to work with new graduates who are coming out of particularly training as nurses.
“We’ve been grateful there’s been some good support from the government to help us to fund some of these types of programs… I think that there are new opportunities that are presenting themselves in hospitals at the moment.”