Auditor general report highlights flawed vaccine rollout and the government’s disregard of nursing expertise
Yesterday’s report by Ontario’s auditor general reveals what the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) has said throughout the pandemic: the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout was riddled with inequities, missed opportunities and waste. It also highlights the neglect that has characterized the government’s approach to the nursing crisis with severe implications for Ontarians’ health.
Since the beginning of the rollout, RNAO called on the Ontario government to task public health with the vaccine rollout planning, engaging also primary care and home care staff – already in the taxpayers’ payroll – to deliver vaccines. Instead, the government chose a more expensive and less efficient approach. Among other inefficiencies noted by the auditor general, close to 3.4 million vaccine doses were wasted.
The report also highlights that nurses who normally administer vaccines were paid one-fifth or less than their physician counterparts in mass vaccination clinics. Physicians were paid $170–$220 per hour whereas nurses were paid $33–49 and pharmacists $30–$57 per hour. “RNAO repeatedly pointed out at the time the resentment this massive pay-for-vaccination inequity caused amongst nurses,” says Dr. Claudette Holloway, RNAO President. “Working through an exhausting and traumatic pandemic in a health-care system stressed to the limit, nurses were exposed to disrespectful actions by the government at a time when its support was most needed,” she adds.
The vaccine rollout and other public health measures such as masking were not consistently applied through an evidence-based or equitable lens. The auditor general noted that the government failed to rely on evidence for its decision to not extend a masking mandate beyond long-term care homes and into other sectors of the health system such as hospitals. Further, despite evidence showing that COVID-19 infections took a disproportionately heavy toll on disadvantaged and racialized urban neighbourhoods, the government failed to act swiftly and to consistently apply an equity focus to its vaccine rollout.
“The auditor general report comes a day after the Superior Court of Justice ruled that Bill 124 is unconstitutional as it violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Holloway, adding that “RNAO has repeatedly pointed out the harmful impacts of Bill 124, by signaling to nurses that the government does not have their back and aggravating the severe human resources crisis in health care.”
With the triple threat of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza in Ontario’s hospitals and a growing nursing crisis, RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun calls on the government to learn from its mistakes. “If we don’t ensure that public health measures such as the rollout of the bivalent COVID-19 and influenza vaccines are equity-focused, Ontario’s most vulnerable communities will again be disproportionately affected,” cautions Grinspun.
RNAO also urges Premier Ford to show in words and deeds the respect our government and employers have for nurses who are at the forefront of the health-care crisis. “The first step starts with valuing nurses’ work and expertise – Premier, please don’t appeal the decision by the court to strike down the wage-limiting Bill 124,” says Grinspun, adding that “it is through mutual respect, a healthy work environment, competitive compensation and manageable workloads that nurses will once again be able to deliver safe and quality care to all Ontarians.”
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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