As the number of COVID-19 infections rises rapidly – almost doubling in just over two weeks (from 313 on Sept. 14 to 538 on Oct. 1), Ontario nurses urge Premier Ford’s government to immediately impose stricter public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent a full lockdown later on. This is something we have implored government officials to do, but their actions are timid and ineffective,” says RNAO’s CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun, adding “the numbers will get much higher unless immediate action is taken to stem the rising tide.”
Grinspun says the rising case counts demonstrate the need for much stronger public health measures to help reduce community spread. This means shutting down bars and not allowing inside table service in restaurants. RNAO also wants places of worship and gyms to be closed. “Anything we can do to limit gatherings of people within confined spaces will help stave off further spread of this virus and prevent illness and deaths,” says Grinspun.
“Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health says he sees no need to return to stage two yet, however, we beg to differ. If we don’t act, we will see case counts way above 1,000 within a week.” Equally alarming, says Grinspun, is the fact that along with the increase in numbers, those who are becoming infected aren’t just in their 20s and 30s. The government’s own data shows that people who are between 40 and 59 are also being infected at higher rates.
Grinspun says “if the government heeds the advice nurses and other organizations are calling for, and if members of the public do their part by being vigilant – washing their hands, practising physical distancing and wearing a mask – we still have time to avoid another province-wide lockdown as has happened in other countries.”
RNAO says the government must also beef up its second wave preparations. “Let’s make sure the lessons learned from the first wave are actually in motion,” says Grinspun. A crucial start is making sure families are not shut out from their loved ones, yet again. Also, we need secure enough health professionals in place. “Nurses and others are exhausted from the long hours and extra shifts. And many have had no time off, even during the summer. Employers need to make sure there is enough capacity and surge capacity to deal with what’s coming,” adds Grinspun.
Grinspun says this week’s government announcement promising more funding ($540 million) for long-term care (LTC) is “appreciated but is an example of too little, too late.” While it includes money earmarked for 15 attending nurse practitioners (NP) in LTC homes and 150 positions for infection prevention and control, “it’s not enough to shore up the army of health workers needed to fight the next battle and who should have been in place already.”
At a time nurses and others have been working flat out, RNAO says it is also unfortunate that Minister for Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton recently remarked in the legislature that “you don’t just snap your fingers and make staffing appear,” when addressing a question about her ministry’s efforts to address staffing in nursing homes.
The reality is RNAO set up a program to address urgent staffing needs at the height of the pandemic. Already in operations on March 13, the program known as VIANurse linked nurses and PSWs with health-care organizations as the virus was surging. “Thousands of RNs, RPNs, NPs and nursing students were placed in 75 health organizations across the province, including telephone triage, public health units, hospitals, and in 241 nursing homes across the province,” says President Morgan Hoffarth. The program was de-activated on July 31 and will not re-open as government officials confirmed Thursday their site is fully functional.
Asked on Tuesday by Long-Term Care Commissioner Chair and Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco and the members of the commission why it is not reactivating the program, RNAO officials explained that VIANurse was set up free of charge and operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week to deal with a pressing need at the height of the pandemic, and during a time the government’s own placement site was not open yet. “It was an emergency solution not a permanent one, with the hope that the government would respond accordingly to combat a second wave,” says Hoffarth.
“This virus will be with us until next year and that’s why efforts must be taken immediately to ensure we have the resources in place and enough nurses and other health workers, especially in LTC where full-time employment and benefits are necessary to ensure stable staffing,” adds Hoffarth.
To facilitate those looking for employment and employers, RNAO says health organizations can use the association’s RN Careers job portal, which is the largest and most successful job seeking site in Ontario and in operation since 2005. It can link LTC homes, hospitals, public health units, home care agencies and other organizations with RNs, NPs and RPNs to ensure system care needs are met.
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-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit our website at RNAO.ca or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.