Home care nurses are #ReadyToVaccinate
RNAO remains deeply involved in the vaccination process and advancing the role of community providers in this unprecedented effort. RNAO is urging that public health and primary care be the healthcare sectors leading the rollout and execution of the COVID-19 vaccination, a practice applied in other countries from the outset and one we are just beginning now in Ontario. As you read in our press release last week, RNAO also asserts that home care has a vital role to play in the vaccination rollout. We are grateful for the following contribution from Shirlee Sharkey, CEO of SE Health. RNAO wholeheartedly supports the approach presented by Shirlee.
At a virtual townhall last Tuesday evening, record numbers of frontline staff logged on to hear more about the COVID-19 vaccination plan and when home care providers and their clients will get their turn. Scrolling through their questions and comments, the level of enthusiasm and anxiety surrounding access to the vaccine was palpable – and completely understandable! At a time when community transmission is raging, our nurses, personal support workers and therapists are in regular and close contact with COVID-19 patients as well as the frail elderly and other vulnerable populations on a daily basis. It was both difficult and disheartening for me to explain that – while frontline healthcare workers and adult recipients of chronic home care are both duly identified as priority populations for Phase 1 of the Ontario’s government’s vaccination plan – there is currently no specific distribution plan for the home care sector.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but an easy problem to fix.
Every year, thousands of nurses, physicians and pharmacists provide routine vaccinations through public health and established networks. In the past three months alone, SE Health nurses have provided the flu shot to approximately 2,500 clients in their own homes as well as 4,000 essential frontline workers including health care, education and municipal staff. If you’re one of the estimated 1.4 million people in Ontario who got the flu shot this season at a drug store, chances are the pharmacist wielding the needle received injection training from SE Health nurses. Since 2013, we have partnered with the Ontario Pharmacist Association to deliver this education to more than 5,400 pharmacists across the province.
The point is, home care nurses have the competencies and skills to provide vaccinations and we already have a distribution network set-up. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If we were given access to the vaccine today, our nurses would be vaccinating seniors in their homes tomorrow.
SE Health recently teamed up with RNAO and other home care providers to urge the Ontario government to make use of existing community care providers and their infrastructure to accelerate the rate of vaccination across the province. As personal support worker Betty Wheeler-Clark put it, “One of the ways I can keep my clients safe is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. When I got the shot, I was really excited!”
Betty was fortunate enough to work in a retirement home setting that invited community staff to participate in their home’s onsite vaccination program; however, there are literally hundreds of thousands of vulnerable home care clients and frontline workers who are still waiting in line.
The COVID-19 vaccine represents our best hope for moving to a better place in the pandemic. We need to take advantage of every opportunity possible, starting with our community-based infrastructure and the practiced and perfected distribution systems for vaccination that already exist.