Ontario nurses speak out about their mental health amid pandemic

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WATCH: Crisis calls made by front-line workers and hospital staff during the pandemic have increased by 200% since June, according to the program manager for community mental health at Brockville General Hospital. – Nov 19, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic passes the eight-month mark, nurses across Ontario continue the fight against the novel coronavirus.

It’s a battle that has left 3,443 people dead and more than 500 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Since March, nurses across the province have cared for infected patients, and for some, the stress is beginning to boil over.

According to Elaine Senis, Brockville General Hospital’s program manager for Community Mental Health, they received around 300 crisis calls from March to June. Since then, the number of crisis calls has increased by 200 per cent, said Senis.

“We noticed a real increase in anxiety and depression, and we’ve also noticed an increase in terms of substance use as well,” said Senis.

Read more: Ontario reports 1,210 new coronavirus cases, 28 more deaths

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Global News spoke to nurses in Brockville and Kingston, and in each, they shared a similar feeling during the pandemic — anxiety.

Theirs is a job they say they signed up for and are proud to serve their communities, but it has come with sacrifice.

“I moved my son out for seven weeks to live with my parents,” said a tear-filled Kelly Mitten, a respiratory therapist at BGH.

“There are challenges on a regular basis with our daily jobs, along with patient care.”

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Mitten says COVID-19 protocols and procedures are constantly changing as more is learned about the virus. She says because of this, her anxiety has heightened, being that the virus affects the respiratory system, but the constant support from hospital staff has allowed her stay calm.

“We’re always having to be on our toes and always having to think what’s coming in the emergency? Where are we going to put this patient? How are we going to dress for this patient? Can we treat them in this room, or do we need to move to another area to treat this patient?” said Mitten.

“Staff here at Brockville General have been there to support.”

Mitten is not alone. Other nurses told Global News that working on the front lines is not something you ‘leave at the door’ when you come home to family, saying COVID-19 has consumed their lives.

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“My husband had cancer, so I wonder what’s going to happen personally in my own family coming home from a hospital, what I’m seeing, what I’m I’m in contact with. But you have to compartmentalize that a bit in order to function,” said Kelly Schaub, a registered nurse at Brockville General Hospital.

Schaub says this year has been the hardest of her 21-year nursing career and urges her fellow front-line workers to seek help.

It’s a feeling shared by many around the region.

“As nurses, we want to take care of everyone else, and maybe we’re not as great about taking care of ourselves,” said Andrea Rochon, a Kingston nurse.

Read more: Coronavirus: Ontario to discuss new restrictions for Toronto, Peel and York

Counselling has proven to be effective in hospitals, said the CEO of Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, Dr. Doris Grinspun. However, she says the free counselling and mental health services provided in Brockville and Kingston are not available for all front line workers in the province, including those who work in long-term care homes.

That’s an issue she says needs to be addressed by the provincial government quickly.

“You have a fire that is going on with gasoline, and the people in that fire, the residents, are screaming, are yelling, they want help — they need help,” said Dr. Grinspun.

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Read more: Ontario promises new care standard in long-term care, to be implemented by 2024-2025

According to the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care, there have been 2,115 deaths reported among residents and patients in long-term care homes. On top of this, eight health-care workers and staff in long-term care homes have died.

Dr. Grinspun says that the Ford government’s promise to implement a standard of four hours of direct care every day for nursing home residents by 2024/2025 needs to be fast-tracked, as she fears that the situation within the homes will worsen.

“I have communicated to the premier that our patience and our goodwill has all but vanished. Empty promises do nothing to save the lives of residents in nursing homes and do nothing to lift the spirits of our colleagues,” said Dr. Grinspun.

Premier Doug Ford has said the province will need to hire “tens of thousands” more personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses to provide care to ensure the four-hour-per-day standard of care is met.

In the meantime, Ontario front-line workers will continue to show up to work as they brace for the second wave.

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