‘COVID-19 overload’: Saskatchewan nurses fight pandemic stress at work, home, union says

Click to play video: '‘COVID-19 overload’: Saskatchewan nurses fight pandemic stress at work, home, union says' ‘COVID-19 overload’: Saskatchewan nurses fight pandemic stress at work, home, union says
WATCH: The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says its main concern is still access to personal protective equipment, but as Daniella Ponticelli reports, for many members, the stress of the job doesn't end once they get off work. – Apr 13, 2020

Medical professionals fighting on the front lines against COVID-19 are also taking on the mental work of providing care during a pandemic.

The president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) told Global News members are dealing with the health threat on all fronts.

“It is the COVID-19 overload,” Tracy Zambory said. “They hear it all day at work, they can’t get away from it anywhere.

“You don’t get away from it on social media. You don’t get away from it on the news.”

READ MORE: Frustrations continue for Saskatchewan nurses over lack of protective equipment

According to SUN, the biggest concern for registered nurses is access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

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“In certain pockets [of Saskatchewan], there’s a heightened sense of anxiety,” Zambory said.

“We’ve had members tell us there is rationing happening and they’re feeling very frightened about their own protection, the protection of their patients and further to that, protection of their own families.”

Zambory said the province has reassured the union there will be more shipments, but added there “doesn’t seem to be any answers coming forth on the amount.”

In late March, the premier of Saskatchewan said many supply chains were trying to meet the demand, adding he was hopeful the supply shortage wouldn’t last much longer.

READ MORE: SHA to prepare field hospitals in Saskatoon, Regina for coronavirus patients

On April 8, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) shared its COVID-19 modelling for three scenarios — low, moderate and high outcomes.

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In it, the SHA provided insight into its pandemic planning — including the potential for field hospitals that would require staffing by registered nurses.

“That’s a good thing and we will be able to work forward from that to help our members. Where it is they could be deployed to and we’ve always understood that could be the case,” Zambory said.

“The hard part was not knowing when it was coming.”

READ MORE: Boosting PPE supply ‘not a top priority’ in years before outbreak: minister

Zambory said, previously, some of its members were moved from programs that shut down to assessment and testing sites.

“The unfortunate part about that is that we didn’t have any chance to have discussions with the employer ahead of time. Our members were just moved there, and that’s where the anxiety comes,” she said.

“When people understand what it is in front of them, what it is their work day and work life could look like … all of these things can help everybody calm down.”

Zambory added that the health-care system in Saskatchewan is faring well right now, as most COVID-19 patients have been able to recover and self-isolate at home.

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“We haven’t hit a huge surge in Saskatchewan yet. There isn’t a lot of people requiring intensive care units, they’re not requiring hospitalization … so we’re very lucky in that aspect right now,” she said.

Connection, quiet time important for mental well-being: SUN

Saskatchewan’s registered nurses are also experiencing unique circumstances on the home front.

According to SUN, some nurses have been washing their clothes and showering before entering their homes after every shift.

Others have sent children to stay with relatives, or have isolated themselves in one of the hotels offering free or cheap rates to essential service providers.

Zambory said all nurses are encouraged to find ways to connect with loved ones, and themselves.

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Click to play video: 'Managing anxiety during the spread of coronavirus' Managing anxiety during the spread of coronavirus
Managing anxiety during the spread of coronavirus – Mar 15, 2020

“Just because we do our social distancing, doesn’t mean we have to actually distance ourselves in an emotional way from people,” she said.

Zambory added more than 750 SUN members have accessed a free three-month membership to online yoga sessions, donated by Regina’s Bodhi Tree Yoga.

“Because we we’re not going to be front line in this fight against COVID, we thought why not throw our support behind people who are?” said Colin Hall, who co-owns the studio.

READ MORE: Man holds sign at hospital window, thanks staff for saving wife’s life amid coronavirus pandemic

“We thought the yoga classes might be a really good way for them to recharge, to relax and kind of keep their spirits up more than anything else.”

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According to SUN, feedback to the sessions has been positive. Nurses have also seen a number of other gestures, big and small, from strangers saying thanks.

“A simple thank-you goes so far and we’ve been getting those in spades from the public and it really does lift the spirits,” Zambory said.

Looking ahead, Zambory said SUN has requested a debrief with the SHA and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health following the pandemic.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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