Health-care workers experienced COVID-driven burnout (File photo)

Health-care workers experienced COVID-driven burnout (File photo)

B.C. healthcare workers impacted by lack of mental health resources

The stress of COVID has contributed to the current hospital staffing crisis

B.C. health-care workers are struggling as a result of inadequate access to mental health resources

COVID has highlighted the prevalence of mental illness in medicine, said resident physician Dr. Christina Botros, doctor in training of emergency medicine in B.C.

Botros said there has been a trend of physicians and nurses reducing their hours or stepping away from urgent care because of the added stress of the pandemic.

This has contributed to the staffing crisis seen in hospitals across B.C., said Botros.

She explained that despite the increase in challenging and heart-wrenching situations, the access that residents have to mental health resources has not improved.

She said like in many industries, mental health therapy is not covered by employment insurance.

As well, Botros said that it is difficult to book in with therapists given that most residents are working over 80 hours per week and most therapists have full patient caseloads.

She said mental health resources are not readily provided to health-care workers in the hospital, even after particularly difficult cases.

“We experience traumatic things and are just expected to deal with it,” said Botros.

“Medicine has for so long not taken mental health seriously.”

She explained how when residents seek aid for their mental health they are told “you’re not strong enough for this profession” by the staff physicians.

Despite the culture of toughness, Dr. Devon Mitchell, president of Resident Doctors of BC, said that physicians experience disproportionately high rates of suicide.

Mitchell said it is imperative resident physicians are at their physical and mental best when caring for people, to prevent errors and ensure high-quality patient care.

“You can’t help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself,” said Botros.

Even experienced physicians were impacted by the sadness that came with COVID infections.

Dr. Jeff Eppler, a physician at Kelowna General Hospital, said it was “discouraging to see the protests and people denying the reality of COVID” while in the hospital the staff was overworked trying to treat people very sick with COVID.

Mitchell said in Vancouver they had “an entire ICU worth of COVID,” in addition to their regular patients, requiring physicians to work longer hours.

Botros said healthcare worker burnout has required nurses to take care of many more patients than they should because of staff shortages.

Burnout is a term often used to describe physical and emotional exhaustion, said Mitchell, noting it is often coupled with depression.

Mitchell and Botros both acknowledge physicians are not the only industry impacted by poor access to mental health resources, and that unfortunately they are not unique in experiencing pandemic-driven burnout.

He hopes for the future, mental health will be valued as much as physical health for all people and included in insurance coverage.

READ MORE: New four-unit infill developments proposed to City of Kelowna staff


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