Responding to the second wave of COVID-19: RNAO continues to speak out in the media

RNAO continues to speak out in the media about issues related to COVID-19 and our calls to the Ontario and federal governments for action regarding the alarming rise in the pandemic wave. This month, we focused primarily on two key issues: tightening restrictions in regional hotspots to slow the spread of the virus, and addressing the renewed and predictable crisis in long-term care (an issue we’ve been pushing for months – and years!). The RNAO COVID-19 press room has links to 42 media hits so far in the month of October.

On October 2, with 732 new COVID-19 cases that day, the Ontario government announced new measures, mandating province-wide masks in public indoor settings and targeted measures in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto, including restricted indoor capacity in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as in gyms and event facilities. As I stated that day in an interview with CBC News, the actions announced were “too little, too late.” I added that, with all due respect to Premier Ford, RNAO and others had been asking for universal masking since at least June. RNAO also called for closing indoor activity in non-essential places. Despite our frustration with the slow action, RNAO recognizes that it took courage from Premier Ford to act three days ahead of Thanksgiving.

Indeed, Premier Ford listened on the need for more stringent measures on October 9, announcing important measures regarding closures of indoor places in the three hotspot regions. RNAO welcomed the new measures and added that the time it took for the Premier to act makes us question the quality of the advice he is receiving. The reality is that the situation today could have been better had we acted earlier, as RNAO and many others had advised.

RNAO has called for the province to develop thresholds for public health measures so the public can understand the seriousness of this virus and continue its efforts to contain it, in a revitalized way. We’ve pushed this message through traditional media and social media using the analogy of a stop light. Regions facing a red light need to return to a modified stage 2 or else case counts in the province will continue to climb, vulnerable populations will suffer more illness and death, and our health system will crumble.

The premier said today that additional hotspots in the province may have to move soon to a modified stage 2. To this, we respond: Premier, move immediately to save people from illness, save lives, as well as save the economy. The longer the virus spreads without restrictions, the more painful the required retrenchment becomes. Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn’t take any breaks; it is a nasty and insidious virus.

The second targeted issue for RNAO this month has been our ongoing public fight – yes, I mean fight – to address the desperate needs of long-term care (LTC) nursing homes. The two key aspects here are 1) to keep Essential Family Care Partners in, even in the face of an outbreak; and 2) the immediate need to protect Ontario’s long-term care residents by hiring more staff. On the latter, minister of long-term care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton has had our report for months and we have yet to hear any feedback. We have raised these same requests in our meetings with her since she took this portfolio. We also sent her RNAO’s call for a Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee in June, and we have continued to urge the premier and minister of long-term care to “hire, hire, hire.” Enough of reports, investigations, and inquiries – now numbering 37 in the past 21 years.

Today, the independent commission into long-term care released several early recommendations in a letter to minister Fullerton. There is a tone of urgency to their letter: they say there is no need for further study; what is required is timely implementation. Their recommendations include hiring more staff in full-time positions, including “an appropriate staff mix to meet the increasing acuity and complex care needs of residents,” for a total of four hours of direct care for each resident. This, again, is exactly what we have called for in our Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee. We met twice with the commissioners and urged them to speak with the premier about increasing funding to long-term care homes. We are very glad to see the commissioners are heeding our advice which by now is expert consensus. In a Globe and Mail article today I am quoted saying the commission is clearly issuing a call for permanent solutions to the staffing crisis. “This is not Band-Aid approaches anymore,” I said. “We are already three months late.” The ball is now in the hands of premier Ford and minister Fullerton; they must deliver now. The time for “carefully reviewing” recommendations is over.      

On Sept. 23, prime minister Justin Trudeau promised national standards for Canada’s long-term care home in the Speech from the Throne. A month earlier, on August 27, RNAO had written to the prime minister asking exactly for that. Our message has been: We’ve already lost too much time and too many lives in long-term care, so we need national standards now. I said in an interview with CityNews,  “We wouldn’t support money without strings attached. We want standards,” and we will continue to push this issue until they are developed and implemented.

As we are all painfully aware, the issues in LTC extend beyond Ontario. For this, we have decided that our next Health System Transformation & COVID-19 Webinar will focus on LTC. It will take place on Monday, November 9, 6:45-8:00 pm and it will be a Cross Country Meeting with a call to Collective Action for Long-Term Care Reform in Canada. See details in the webinars section below.

RNAO has put out several media releases on important issues recently and the two that garnered the most media coverage were related to our call and then our response to public health measures to deal with the rising infection rates. RNAO continues to be dedicated to making sure the voice of our members and the needs of the public we serve are heard by media.