Cornies: We Canadians are failing our healthcare workers

Collectively, as Canadians, we are failing our healthcare workers.

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Shortly before retiring from Western University, the eminent historian Peter Neary wrote an article for a Canadian Forces advisory board, in which he said: “Dressing in the uniform of your country – and this is also true today as it was in 1914 – is to make an extraordinary commitment: to put oneself in danger, as it should, in the interest of the nation. . . Between those who wear the uniform and the country they serve, there is an implicit social pact that must be respected.

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Neary went on to say that the measure of a nation is found in the respect and support it offers to those who put themselves in harm’s way for the good of their countrymen and their country.

While some Canadian veterans may claim that Canada is not doing enough or that their legitimate claims are sometimes mired in the thickets of bureaucracy, it is fundamentally true that those who have suffered distress and injury as a result of their service receive some form of compensation.

To illustrate this point, I asked Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) officials to imagine a hypothetical case: Claudette, I told them, is a corporal who served in Afghanistan for five years. She left the Forces at age 37 with five years of pensionable service. During a tour overseas, however, she was exposed to a chemical, deployed by enemy fighters, that reduced her lung capacity by about half. She will carry these internal wounds with her for life.

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In response to this scenario, VAC officials said that given Claudette’s permanent medical condition or disability resulting from her service, she would likely receive a disability benefit – an unpaid financial support payment. taxable. The precise amount would depend on the degree to which his condition is related to his service and the severity of the condition, including its impact on quality of life. There is no time limit for applying for disability benefits for a service-related injury or illness.

In addition, Claudette may receive additional pain and suffering compensation, a lifetime monthly benefit that can be cashed out as a lump sum. In any case, upon retirement, the compensation for his battlefield injury and its lingering effects would likely amount to between $1,000 and $2,000 per month.

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Although Canadian soldiers are currently not on the front lines of any war, our healthcare workers are at great risk as they fight an invisible contagion that takes no prisoners.

Doctors, nurses and support workers find themselves in a life-threatening fight they didn’t sign up for. Nor did they expect friendly fire from some of their own countrymen — those who refuse to follow public health guidelines on masking and vaccination — to make their situation worse. The round-the-clock heat of battle leads to post-traumatic stress, burnout, illness and, in some cases, long COVID. Across Canada, more than 60 healthcare workers have died as a direct result of their efforts to save others.

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The crisis in our hospitals and long-term care homes has also produced less obvious or visible distress and injury.

Don Richardson, psychiatrist and director of the Lawson Research Institute’s MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury Research Center, is leading an 18-month study of the impacts of the pandemic on healthcare workers. He says that “with moral distress, we’re really talking about emotions like shame, guilt, anger, demoralization, and things that conflict with your moral standards. When we talk about moral damage, it is really about the lasting and long-term impact of these events. These include self-image, worldview and mental health.

The research study, co-led by associate scientist Anthony Nazarov, tracks responses from more than 1,300 healthcare workers across Canada. The study will end in late February or early March, but some preliminary results are already emerging. These include the distress frontline workers feel due to the risks to their families, having to care for more patients than they can safely treat, lack of continuity of care and lack of resources and equipment. Most importantly, near the top of the list is a lack of administrative action.

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Collectively, as Canadians, we are failing our healthcare workers.

Members of Parliament have a long tradition of putting aside partisanship and coming together to address veterans’ issues. It should be so now, as we rely on the superhuman efforts of frontline medical professionals who wear scrubs instead of fatigues, gloves instead of guns, masks instead of helmets and smocks instead of armour. The House of Commons should establish a committee or task force to put together a benefits package, available in retirement, to healthcare workers who manage to stay in their jobs during this battle – or suffer injury or loss sustainable because of it.

Neary’s words ring true here: There is an implicit social pact that must be honored. We owe greater support to those who put themselves at risk for other citizens.

Larry Cornies is a London-based journalist. [email protected]

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