COVID-19 has left B.C. nurses emotionally exhausted, anxious and depressed: survey

VANCOUVER — The vast majority of B.C. nurses fear they will ­contract COVID-19 at work or bring it home with them, according to the results of a new survey that has found many of the front-line workers feeling depressed, ­anxious and ­emotionally drained.

The survey, conducted by the University of B.C. School of Nursing and funded by the B.C. Nurses’ Union, sampled the psychological health of nurses during the pandemic and found significantly deteriorated conditions as compared with the results of a similar study from late last year.

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For Farinaz Havaei, head researcher of the survey and an assistant professor at the UBC nursing school, the key concern is that the worsening emotional health of nurses could impact their ability to provide effective patient care.

“If I’m not at 100 per cent, if I’m feeling down and not focused, if I’m constantly ­worried, am I able to think ­critically and care for my patients at the best of my ­ability?” Havaei said. “The implication here is beyond the nursing workforce. It ­certainly includes the nursing workforce, but it’s also about the … health and safety of the ­general public that requires nursing care and services.”

The survey found 41 per cent of nurses are depressed, an increase of 10 per cent from the results from a year before. And nearly as many, 38 per cent, experienced anxiety — also up 10 per cent from the year before. A 10-per-cent spike represents an additional 5,000 nurses, given that the workforce is about 50,000 strong, Havaei said.

Emotional exhaustion has also crept up since last year, with 60 per cent of those surveyed reporting feeling it. That was up from 56 per cent in 2019.

About 86 per cent of nurses say they’re extremely concerned about bringing COVID-19 home, and 80 per cent think they’ll ­contract it on the job.

Meanwhile, about half of nurses don’t believe their personal protective equipment is high quality, and two-in-five believe there isn’t enough access to it to perform their work safely.

“A large majority of nurses in the province are ­direct-care ­providers — they’re in direct one-to-one contact with patients,” Havaei said. “When I see these numbers, [I think], What does that do to nurses’ decisions to stay at work?’ We already know there’s a shortage of nurses in the province.”

More than half of the nurses surveyed reported inadequate staffing, and one-quarter said they had been told to work despite possible or confirmed exposure to COVID-19.

About 41 per cent of nurses said they believed there had been poor transparency around organizational pandemic ­decisions and 27 per cent said they had experienced changes to COVID-19-related protocols on a daily, or more frequent, basis.

Christine Sorensen, president of the nurses’ union, said the findings were concerning and exposed “the heavy toll” the pandemic had taken on nurses’ personal and professional lives. Even before COVID-19 struck, nurses were affected by burnout due to high workloads, she said. The pandemic has added to that.

“What this study tells me is that it’s more important than ever that mental-health support is provided for nurses and all health-care nurses as they brace for the COVID-19 surge this fall,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said she applauded all the efforts taken by the ­government to secure enough PPE for the province, but “through this entire pandemic there has been restricted access.”

“When nurses don’t have unfettered access to the personal protective equipment they need, it is placing both patients and nurses at-risk,” she said.

The survey, titled A ­Provincial Study of Nurses’ COVID-19 Experiences and ­Psychological Health and Safety in B.C., Canada, was conducted in June and July 2020, and included 4,523 nurses.

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