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Alberta healthcare workers burnt out despite drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations


While Alberta hospitalization numbers are currently on the decline, some doctors say the end to exhaustion is nowhere in sight for healthcare workers.

Internal medicine physician Dr. Neeja Bakshi works at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. She says staff there aren’t anywhere close to experiencing pre-pandemic working conditions and after two years practicing at the hospital’s COVID-19 unit, she’s far too familiar with the toll it’s taken on staff.

“You can just see the weariness and fatigue,” said Bakshi. “And then some people it’s anger, some people it’s sadness”

She says that emotion is coming from the continuous pressure placed on healthcare workers as they handle patient volumes far beyond what they’re normally staffed for, a pressure she predicts will grow even as COVID-19 hospitalizations slope downward.

“What we’re seeing right now is the fallout of two years of people not seeking healthcare or not being able to get the health care that they need because of COVID, and so I don’t think we’re actually going to see a reduction,” said Bakshi.

She says following peaks of prior COVID-19 waves, non-COVID-19 admissions would slow down. But general hospital overcapacity hasn’t dipped since the beginning of the fourth wave. As hospital staff continue to care for those in need, long hours and a lack of breaks is taking a hit on their own well-being.

According to Bakshi, many staff members have not received a decent break since September.

“A break is incredibly important because we are talking about patients lives, we’re talking about critical decisions that affect people’s health, and we’re talking about our own wellness and our own health,” said Bakshi.

With major staff burnout brought on by the pandemic, the Alberta Medical Association says some healthcare workers are leaving the field altogether. The Alberta Medical Association's president, Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren,  says COVID-19 has lifted a veil on what was an already broken healthcare system.

“Our system was not okay before COVID-19. It was functioning because of the people in it, and because they give 110 percent every time they come into work,” said Warren. “The cracks that were there widened and it became apparent to everybody.”

She suggests some of the system’s fractures could be treated by better addressing primary care needs to avoid a flood of patients relying on hospital support. Warren says a real solution will take time and will rely on strengthening relationships throughout the system.

“Without relationships, without compassion and empathy within the health care system at all levels, it doesn’t matter how much money you put at it. It’s not going to solve the problem,” said Warren.

With files from CTV Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson. Top Stories

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