Falling from work, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while working as an infection prevention and control nurse. A nightmare. “I felt a strong sense of guilt…” Joannie Van Houtte St-Gelais, a nurse at the Honoré-Mercier hospital in Saint-Hyacinthe, felt that she was letting her team down when she was taken on sick leave after the first wave. .
“It was the summer when many of my colleagues had to cancel their holidays,” explains the 37-year-old woman. I thought to myself, “Are you going to think I asked my doctor to stop me because I wanted my vacation to be the same?” Victim of overtime, Joannie Van Houtte stayed at home for six weeks. When he came back, the second wave came.
As of March 2020, about 50% of the approximately 17,000 employees of the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est are incapacitated for work for various medical reasons (including COVID-19 and long-term COVID). According to the CISSS, 38% of these workers struggled with a mental health problem.
This trend already existed before the pandemic. According to the health agency, 42% of CISSS employees experienced a disability episode in 2018-2019, 39% of which were for mental health reasons.
“We’re concerned because the fatigue and wear and tear are really big,” said Jacynthe Boisvert, senior consultant in organizational health management at the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est.
The “rescuers of Quebec” come to the aid of the patients, but with worn capes. Others may collapse.
“We are so understaffed to meet the needs and service offerings that our leaders, our managers or senior advisors have had to make shifts in the field and care responsibilities, particularly in CHSLDs and youth centers,” said Jacynthe Boisvert. . Otherwise we are out of service. †
Psychological first aid
To support its staff, the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est will soon launch a “Health Ambassador” project. From mid-June, employees will receive psychological first aid training. “They can help colleagues and listen, be nice and refer them to the right resources,” explains Jacynthe Boisvert. They intervene during their working hours. “We come to legitimize the corridor discussions,” she continues.
For a year now, CISSS employees have also been able to benefit from “Reprise ton élan”, a project designed in collaboration with the company Impact Réadaptation. A kinesiologist offers weekly individual consultations or workshops in the hospitals of the region (Pierre-Boucher, Hôtel-Dieu de Sorel and Honoré-Mercier) on, for example, the prevention and management of pain or psychological health. According to the CISSS, more than 250 individual follow-ups and more than 400 workshops have taken place to date.
The president of the Union of Healthcare Professionals of Montérégie-Est, Brigitte Petrie, is skeptical about these measures, in particular the “health ambassadors” project. “People are in crisis, exhausted,” she says. Will they feel like helping others when all they really want to do is get out of the hospital and go home? †
In hospitals and CHSLDs, nurses “have no time” to participate in the various activities offered during lunch, she adds. “If you give me a yoga class, but you make me do two TSOs [temps supplémentaire obligatoire] in my week I may not be in good health after all,” says Brigitte Petrie. The union reiterates that the working conditions of care providers must be improved to prevent burnout.
Since returning to work, Joannie Van Houtte St-Gelais has been taking a lunch break. She made a pact with a former colleague from her department: close the computer screen and read a novel. “It sometimes happened to us that the phone would ring and say, ‘I was waiting for his call, it will take five minutes,’ she says. Seeing that we were feeling bad about breaking our agreement, I thought, ‘OK, we on our way”. “
Last January, the nurse became a senior consultant in specialized care – continuum oncology and palliative care. She always practices the “disconnection”. Since January, the chairman and CEO of the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est has been sending reminders to the administrative staff twice a week to take an “active break” between 12:15 pm and 12:45 pm. this period.
Managers in need
Managers are also exhausted by the pandemic. France Ayotte, head of the intra- and extra-hospital archives for the territory of Richelieu-Yamaska and responsible for the harmonization of services, can testify to this. Despite her doctor’s insistence, she refused to take sick leave in August 2021. No one could replace her.
“I said to my doctor, ‘There is no way I’m going to stop. It’s not true that I’m going to leave my team in this situation,” said the 53-year-old woman, moved.
The former medical archivist sits in her tiny windowless office in the basement of Honoré-Mercier Hospital. The employees work in a nearby facility, where more than 535,000 medical records are archived… on paper.
France Ayotte received support from the CISSS while she was back on her feet. Jacynthe Boisvert offered her coaching sessions for approximately five weeks, as she has for 45 managers since joining the CISSS a year and a half ago.
“It was the first time I was listened to in the organization,” says France Ayotte, who is now better. I’ve already been to psychologists. But it was always outsiders who didn’t know what was going on internally. †
Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal Simon Grenier is interested in the network’s managers who are being tested during the pandemic. This autumn, he will conduct research into management compassion in times of crisis together with François Courcy, professor of psychology at the Université de Sherbrooke. Employees and managers of the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est will be questioned.
The researchers’ hypothesis? Managers living in distress find it more difficult to show compassion for their staff. Yet compassion is one of the ingredients that promote work efficiency and innovation, says Simon Grenier. “It encourages employees to put more effort into their work and to create a climate of emotional and psychological safety between them,” he specifies.
At the end of their studies, Simon Grenier and François Courcy want to make recommendations to the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est. The network needs their help.