COVID-19: Kingston health-care system under strain in 6th wave of pandemic

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Local health care professionals are voicing frustration during the sixth wave of COVID-19, saying it's contributing to a chronic staff shortage at hospitals – Apr 5, 2022

Kingston, Ont., health-care professionals say the entire health-care system is under strain and on the verge of collapse as it gears up for the continued impact of a sixth wave of the pandemic.

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“Our hospital situation has not fully recovered from previous waves insofar as nurses are concerned,” says registered nurse Debra Lefebvre. “Long before the pandemic, we had a nursing shortage of approximately 22,000 nurse professionals. And with the pandemic, due to burnout, due to overwhelming working conditions, early retirement, it has a dramatic impact on patient care.”

Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) has felt that impact, dealing with critical staffing issues in a full hospital.

“I think we’ve been struggling for a while, and by struggling I mean that we aren’t able to respond in the way that we would like to,” says KHSC COO Dr. Renate Ilse. “And so that means that sometimes care is delayed and in clinics we might not have as many nurses present as we would like.”

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Ilse says over March break the shortages were so significant they had to call in managers, directors and vice presidents to ensure safe care at the hospital.

“At the end of a shift we already know we’re down 50 per cent of nurses the following day,” Lefebvre says. “It’s demoralizing and it’s distressing and so the two combined are the perfect storm.”

Lefebvre says nurses work 12-hour shifts without breaks before being called in on days off to work another part of a day or night shift.

“We know health-care leaders, hospital administrators, they’re doing their very best and we’re all trying to cope, but how much more are we expected to cope? We need leadership and we would very much like to have the mask mandates reinitiated.”

According to Ilse, KHSC has had more staff off sick than ever before.

Read more: Quebec extends mask mandate to end of April as province faces rising COVID-19 numbers

“We’re in double digits most days for new staff with COVID,” she says. “I reflect fondly back to early in the pandemic when … it would be a big deal if one staff member was off. Those days are long gone.”

Ilse says she has spoken with colleagues at hospitals to the east and west of Kingston, who have been told to expect two to four more weeks of the impact of wave six.

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Until then, she is thanking staff who continue to ride it out, as they’ve done for over two years now.

“We really appreciate what they’ve been doing, we know how they’ve been going above and beyond,” Ilse says. “We do hear their concerns and their worries. It’s not that we’re not listening, you know, there are just an absence of options. And so, thank you for all that you’re doing, and we appreciate you.”

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