There has been a lot of interest recently in the women that are publicly leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada; the country’s Chief Public Health Officer and six of 13 provincial Public Health or Medical Officers are women. Here in BC, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s calm and reassuring presence, honest assessments, and direct answers have won her many fans on social media.
But for generations, women have played a major role in healthcare; 4 out of 5 healthcare workers in BC are women. Within certain health professions that ratio is even higher. Across Canada, women make up 90.5% of nurses. The majority of ancillary health workers such as cleaners, administrative staff, and food service workers in health facilities are also women.
All of these workers are putting themselves at risk — for the patients in their care, and society as a whole.
This goes beyond possible exposure to illnesses. In BC, 61% of workplace violence claims are in healthcare and of those, more than 80% of injured workers were women. This translates to approximately 26 nurses suffering a violent injury at work every month. Unfortunately, we know that many more incidents go unreported.
Medical professionals also suffer from high rates of burnout and stress, as the work they do – combined with the constraints of the system – impacts their physical and mental well-being. Studies show that 33-43% of nurses have reported burnout, and physicians have similar rates.
More recent data shows that these burnout rates are likely increasing.
Against this backdrop, women are more likely to be disproportionately impacted as COVID-19 puts unprecedented strain on the healthcare system. 75% of Canada’s respiratory therapists, who are working closely with infected patients, are women. Data from Italy shows that healthcare workers account for almost 9% of COVID-19 infections, likely due to repeated exposures while caring for patients.
All healthcare workers know there are risks, but they continue to show up in clinics, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. They are cleaning rooms and hallways, serving food to staff and patients, analyzing test samples, administering drugs and treatments, and holding the hands of patients when their loved ones no longer can.
But there is a cost, and we’ve seen this happen before. Healthcare workers experienced high levels of burnout, psychological distress, and posttraumatic stress for up to two years after the SARS outbreak in Canada.
We see the current surge of support for healthcare workers. #HealthCareHeroes is trending on social media, and we applaud them nightly – but they will continue to need support in the long term.
HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT:
- Donate to our COVID-19 Response Fund: Hospital + Staff, to support those going above and beyond at BC Women’s Hospital during this time.
- Contribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) through the BC Government’s supply portal.
- Thank a woman working on the front lines. Tag us (@bcwomens) in your post! You can also use the hashtag #WomenOnTheFrontLines.
BC Women’s Health Foundation is BC’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the full spectrum of women’s health. The information shared is intended to educate, inform, and point readers to credible sources. It is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of qualified healthcare professionals with any questions specific to your medical condition. For more information, visit HealthLinkBC.ca.
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