RNAO welcomes COVID-19 facility for persons experiencing homelessness, and arrival of Doctors Without Borders to Toronto’s fight against the virus

April 13, 2020

RNAO welcomes today’s announcement from Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) and partners that a dedicated facility for care and treatment of COVID-positive people who are experiencing homelessness in Toronto is imminent. We are thrilled with the news that Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders is bringing its global expertise in dealing with pandemics to Toronto to support ICHA’s efforts to scale up its vital role in providing health care to persons without housing. We thank Doctors Without Borders for its steadfast commitment to health care for vulnerable populations around the world.

RNAO is relieved that persons experiencing homelessness will continue to receive the much-needed care they need and deserve by ICHA’s nurse-led collaborative model of care under the leadership of clinical director Dr. Leigh Chapman. Dr. Chapman is a nurse executive and experienced community health and harm reduction expert who lost her brother Brad, who was homeless, to a drug overdose five years ago.

RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun says, “while COVID-19 does not respect borders, it does discriminate if it is allowed to do so. Sadly, COVID-19 is and will continue to discriminate against those most vulnerable in our society: Residents in nursing homes and retirement homes; correctional facilities, indigenous communities, and persons living in the shelter system. The latter are especially vulnerable because of the impossibility for physical distancing, which only the empowered authorities can urgently and decisively solve by securing adequate space for all.” Grinspun adds that “the protection of persons experiencing homelessness is a matter of individual and collective good. While they are confined to crowded shelters at night, during most of the day, our sisters and brothers are out and about. Thus, protecting them is important to ensure their health, that of staff, and that of our communities at large.” 

The program, funded by the province with municipal and community partnership, will provide health care to many who rely on Toronto's shelters and drop-in centres, bringing to life an innovative, nurse-led, collaborative care program that centres on the need for expert and dignified care of one of our most vulnerable populations. The provincially funded program has three component parts. The first component, CARE, is a risk stratification process that identifies those who are experiencing homeless that are in greatest need of isolation and protection because of pre-existing conditions and illnesses. The second component is a COVID-19 isolation facility for persons under investigation (PUI). The PUI facility is the result of essential interorganizational collaboration between the community health, hospital, public health unit and the City of Toronto. Fifty nurses have been recruited to provide care at the 200-bed facility in west Toronto, along with harm reduction workers from community partners.   

Today’s announcement of the third component of the program is of critical importance. There is clear urgency to bring a COVID-19 positive site online for those experiencing homelessness.  Dr. Andrew Bond, ICHA’s Medical Director, says “those who test positive for COVID-19 at our PUI site and other facilities need a place to go to get the care they need. The COVID-19+ isolation centre is intended to be a safe place where people experiencing homelessness can be clinically supported and cared for without fear of spreading the virus to fellow residents and workers in the shelter system, where there is significant vulnerability to the virus.”

“RNAO applauds Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott for their foresight to fund this program, and for their concern for this extremely vulnerable population,” says Dr. Angela Cooper Braithwaite, RNAO’s president. She adds that “the association also is grateful to Mayor John Tory for committing city resources to this critically important infrastructure in the fight against this pandemic.

“We at RNAO are immensely proud of our membership. RNAO’s VIANurse program has played a central role in the selection of highly qualified registered nurses (RN) and nurse practitioners (NP) to staff the PUI centre and the imminent COVID-19+ facility. We also applaud our RPN colleagues and their professional association (WeRPN) for answering the call to help with courage and conviction,” says Cooper Braithwaite.

“We are indebted to Dr. Bond and the ICHA Board of Directors for their ongoing work in Toronto in the service of the city’s thousands of homeless citizens. The COVID-19 fight demands that all of us rise to the immensely difficult challenge, vigorously with knowledge, compassion and determination. We have a long way to go, and we will only win if we travel this difficult road together. ICHA’s model, bringing together politicians, professional associations, health-care professionals, community service agencies, and now, a global humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders, is the model for victory over this virus,” emphasizes Grinspun.

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 they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit our website at or follow us on Facebook  and Twitter. 

Contact info

Marion Zych
Director of Communications
Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO)
Victoria Alarcon
Communications Officer/Writer
Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO)