The Ontario government’s announcement today to ease public health measures beginning Jan. 31 is premature and will prolong the current health system crisis, says the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO). It is irresponsible to announce that gyms, indoor dining and other settings can open up to 50 per cent capacity and sporting events, concert venues and theatres will be able to have up to 500 people when people’s surgeries and procedures have been postponed, schools have only just reopened and ICU numbers continue to increase.
“We’ve already experienced the consequences of reopening too soon, yet today’s announcement shows the government hasn’t learned from its past mistakes. Last February, Premier Doug Ford lifted restrictions prematurely causing immense pressure on our health system, resulting in the spring 2021 lockdown – and here we are again a year later,” says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. “The government should wait until kids have been back at school for at least two weeks in order to make a decision that is measured and informed by data.”
RNAO urges the government to reverse course and maintain strict public health measures for the next few weeks to alleviate pressures on Ontario’s overworked nurses and a collapsed health system. We must improve the conditions so the thousands of Ontarians waiting for other hospital services – including postponed heart and cancer surgeries – start receiving them. This will not happen without addressing the nursing human resources crisis. Premier Ford must immediately repeal Bill 124 and fast track the process for internationally educated nurses (IEN). These are critical moves to address the staffing crisis in nursing.
“Nurses are beyond exhausted and haven’t slowed down since the start of the pandemic two years ago, yet the Ford government’s failure to repeal Bill 124 is a clear indication that this Premier does not respect nurses,” says Grinspun, referring to the government’s legislation that caps wage increases to just one per cent. “There are also thousands of IENs eager to join Ontario’s workforce, but they are forced to sit idle, not able to practise. Some hospitals are operating at more than 100 per cent capacity, and without a nurse, a bed is just a piece of furniture. As Minister of Health Christine Elliott acknowledged, the province’s health system will continue to experience challenges through February. Premier Ford, our health system needs more nurses now,” urges Grinspun.
On Wednesday, Ontario reported 60 deaths caused by COVID-19 – the highest daily count since Feb. 4, 2021 (when 88 were reported). “People are dying from COVID-19 and the government must keep that top of mind as they make decisions that impact transmission rates, hospitalizations and health system capacity,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth. “These numbers represent real people with families left in anguish. And, they do not include those who will die as a result of untreated non-COVID-19 health conditions. Dr. Moore said recently we need to ‘slowly and cautiously remove public health measures,’ yet today’s announcement shows the government is back-peddling on their own advice and hospitals will become even fuller than they already are. It is tragic to see that Dr. Moore is backing decisions based on government politics rather than the precautionary principle and sound evidence.”
Ontario continues to observe climbing ICU numbers with 594 ICU patients today, compared to 589 yesterday. There is also an increase in the number of patients on a ventilator (347 today, 341 yesterday), further burdening the health system.
“Reopening schools is crucial but without slowing the spread of the highly transmissible and airborne Omicron variant, cases and clusters in schools will multiply. Furthermore, the current situation in our hospital system is unsustainable and prolonging that situation due to the inaction of the government should deeply worry Ontarians. Premier Ford seems to be more attentive to opinion polls than to the dangers of a collapsed hospital system resulting in more preventable deaths,” says Hoffarth.
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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