Vicki Tramer is a dental assistant working in Regina. She worked for years in the private sector, before taking a job with the health region’s Advanced Dental Health Practices Program. “Before the pandemic we went out to daycares and community organizations, preschools, in the city and in rural areas, and gave people support and education,” she said. “We have a very unique and specialized service that we provide to the public. Our programming targets young children and school age children to give them and their parents guidance on how to have good oral health habits. I always find it satisfying to bridge the gap, because there are so many people who don’t have the means or the know-how to get to where they need to be with their oral hygiene. I find value in that.”
Tramer said that since the pandemic the job she valued so much has completely changed. “All of our services have been suspended since the pandemic hit,” she said, adding that she and her colleagues were initially pulled from their program in the middle of the day and told they would be redeployed. “Our manager said, ‘okay it’s all hands-on deck,’ she said. “We were given the option to not participate, but ultimately, we had to. It was necessary. So, the dental health team was redeployed into the pandemic response.” But that redeployment didn’t last forever, and Tramer has experienced long periods of un- and underemployment. “You talk about challenges with the work, well this has been so incredibly challenging. I hear people complain about being forced to get a vaccine, or being redeployed somewhere, and I think “well you’re lucky to even be working or even have a choice.” I’ve never been guaranteed any hours and that has been the hardest part of the pandemic for me. They use you for so long to help with the needs of whatever’s going on at the time and then when they don’t need you anymore, you’re outed. I haven’t worked since the end of June. “
I’m also the facilities rep [for CUPE 5430]. I sit in on meetings and lately it’s been a lot of people being redeployed from their home departments. So, you have somebody who worked 10-6 in their home department and they’re getting redeployed to contact tracing and they need them from 7-3. Well, that doesn’t work for her with her family, with her life, so then she has to go in and ask for accommodations. Well, she’s up against the employer and the accommodations consultant, and let me tell you, the employer really pushes back.
Tramer, who is also a facilities representative for CUPE 5430 said she doesn’t think the public understands the extent of the instability frontline healthcare workers have experienced through the pandemic. “Frontline workers have no choice in the work that they do,” she said. “The public is really harsh to the frontline workers sometimes, and they just have no clue. And you wonder why a lot of healthcare workers are miserable and grouchy. It’s because they’re dealing with leadership that doesn’t tell them anything. There’s no transparency. There’s a corruption in the system that I don’t know if they’ll ever fix. They were having staffing shortages before the pandemic. All the pandemic did was shine the light on the instability and how bad it is. People are having to work short. They’re having to work overtime.”
For Tramer, the stress of the changes and the lack of support from management led her to take time away from work. “Last January I suffered a burnout after I was forced to go work in one of the care homes. My manager told me, “If you need any help, call me” but when I called them – several times – they said there was no one to come help and I would just have to do it myself. I was appalled by the way I was treated. So, I ended up taking a couple months off, and I came back before I felt ready, and things weren’t any different, but I was treated differently for sure.”
She said she hopes the general public can start treating frontline healthcare workers with more compassion. “Healthcare workers are doing absolutely everything they can,” she said. “There’s a lot of people in the healthcare system that don’t get any credit for the amount of work that they do. There’s a lot more than what you see on the outside. A lot of people are really frustrated.”