Studying the mental well-being of Canadian hospital staff amid COVID-19

Posted on Thursday, October 8, 2020

At Hôpital Montfort, the first workers to fall ill of COVID-19 weren’t doctors or nurses. They were members of the cleaning staff.

“That’s what made me sit up and take notice,” says Dr. Marie-Hélène Chomienne, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, who is leading multi-disciplinary team studying the psychological well-being of Canadian hospital cleaning staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Marie-Hélène Chomienne and Paul Shean, a member of Hôpital Montfort's cleaning staff.

Hospital cleaning staff, like Paul Shean (right) of Hôpital Montfort, perform essential work and face high risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will share their experiences in a Canada-wide research project led by Dr. Marie-Hélène Chomienne (left).

“This made me appreciate how much these workers are truly on the front lines. They go unnoticed yet they have such an important role in keeping us safe in this pandemic and fighting the infection. We should be examining how they are coping with the added stress COVID-19 has brought.”

Dr. Chomienne, a practicing clinician at Montfort, expects to poll 10,000 front-line workers in an initiative which is receiving a grant just under $200,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to study the psychological well-being of Canadian hospital cleaning staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will be conducted via online questionnaires (originally developed during the SARS epidemic) that will be sent to cleaning staff at hospitals across Canada to assess feelings of anxiety, depression, distress and insomnia. Cleaning staff will be asked to rate their sense of risk of contracting the virus. Dozens of in-person, physically distanced, discussion groups to add nuance to the quantitative results are also planned.

“Research should provoke transformative change,” says Dr. Chomienne, who is also a researcher at Institut du Savoir Montfort and CT Lamont Primary Health Care Research Centre. “You can do lots of research and write lots of articles, but if nothing changes on the ground, I think that the investment hasn’t done much good.”

Dr. Chomienne is one of six scientists at uOttawa and its associated research institutes receiving over $1 million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Knowledge Synthesis Grant: COVID-19 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity in Mental Health and Substance Use.


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