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staff members outside Sick Kids hospitalHealth-care workers, like these staff members outside Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, need public support, says a UWindsor research study.

Study gives voice to silenced health-care workers

Health-care workers are at risk of COVID-19 exposure, yet are left without adequate protections, says a study by occupational health researchers at the University of Windsor.

In Canada, health-care workers have been disproportionately infected by COVID-19, making up nearly 20 per cent of cases, write the authors — doctoral student Jane McArthur, instructors James Brophy and Margaret Keith, and Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions — in an article published Monday in the Conversation, which shares news and views from the academic and research community.

“Health-care workers are not allowed to talk publicly about their working conditions,” the article states. “They are systematically silenced — disciplined or fired — for speaking out about unsafe working conditions.”

For their study, the researchers conducted anonymous interviews with health-care workers.

“The risk of being infected with COVID-19, the lack of preparedness by governments, little success in arguing for better protection, and being barred from speaking publicly have left health-care workers feeling angry, fearful, and sacrificed,” they found. “The vulnerability and physical and mental health impact on health-care workers also affects health-care delivery to the public.”

The study concludes with recommendations that include:

  • Increased staffing levels in Ontario’s hospitals and in long-term care.
  • Changes to the workplace culture so health-care workers are heard.
  • Strong management support to mitigate mental distress.
  • Improved working conditions and personal protective equipment.
  • Legislated protection to allow staff to speak without reprisal.

Read the entire piece, “Silenced and sacrificed: COVID-19 health-care workers’ secret suffering unveiled” in the Conversation.