'It's non-stop': Medical association says health-care worker burnout has doubled since pandemic

Elinor Kelly doesn't shy away from challenges.

As the lead clinical nurse in a critical care and burn unit, she runs toward them. But the pandemic has piled on problems — from an increase in trauma patients to COVID-19 patients.

“It's non-stop so you go from COVID to the traumas. It's never a bit of a break. It used to be you had quietness, but you don't anymore,” Kelly said.

“The patients aren’t stopping. And I think because there was such a shutdown for so long, people got sicker.”

Kelly has been a nurse for 27 years. She still loves her job, and finds her management team and organization supportive, but like many health professionals, she’s tired.

Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the rate of burnout is double what it was pre-pandemic.

“Our health-care system is at a level of crisis we've never really seen and the health workers are in a state of crisis we've never seen,” said Smart.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), have developed health human resources solutions designed to rebuild Canada’s health-care workforce.

In the next six months, the groups want Ottawa and the provinces to create retention incentives for health-care workers -- options like retention bonuses, tax incentives or loan forgiveness for new graduates.

The CMA, CAN and CFPC also want to see more mental health supports for workers and to find ways to trim time spent on paperwork.

“Removing the administrative burden that nurses and other health-care workers have, where they're doing administrative tasks instead of actual nursing care, would make a difference,” said Tim Guest, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association.

The groups also want provinces to build on virtual care models, invest in new training for doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, and support internationally trained professionals to get licensed in Canada.

In the long-term, they want to see a pan-Canadian mental health plan for health-care workers and better data collection across health systems to support creating a health human resource plan for Canada.

“What health-care professionals do we need, and where do we need them?” Smart said. “I think a lot of Canadians would be surprised to know that information doesn’t exist right now.”

During National Nurses week last week, Kelly felt her colleagues were acknowledged and recognized. She believes the secret to attracting and retaining people is about more than money, but it helps.

“How do we retain workers? Probably a raise,” Kelly said. “Probably a decent one. I think that's going to have to help. Especially for critical care nurses because critical care, we have a lot of people that we train and recruit, but after a year or so they can go work privately at triple the amount of money I’m making after 27 years.”