RNAO celebrates virtual 96th Annual General Meeting

With more than 800 registered nurses (RN), nurse practitioners (NP), nursing students, politicians and guests from all over Ontario and beyond joining us virtually, RNAO celebrated almost a century of success in health care and nursing at our 96th Annual General Meeting (AGM) on June 24-26.

The three-day event featured notable political and nursing leaders including President Morgan Hoffarth, Immediate Past-President Angela Cooper Brathwaite, RNAO’s board of directors, consultation representatives and myself. We joined members for meaningful sessions including the opening ceremonies, the release of RNAO’s newest best practice guideline (BPG) Promoting 2SLGBTQI+ Health Equity and a closing keynote discussion on the experiences of nurses during this pandemic. The theme Protecting Ontarians and Leading Change: Nurses and RNAO during COVID-19 defined this AGM with the resilience and dedication of nurses at the forefront.

The event began with a traditional opening and travelling song by Elder Perry McLeod-Shabogesic of the N’biising (Nipissing) First Nation Crane Clan who took a moment with us to remember the residential school deaths uncovered over the recent weeks and the physical, mental and emotional trauma that has swept the Indigenous communities.  

This year’s AGM was hosted by the Ontario Nurses for the Environment Interest Group (ONEIG) who introduced the three-day AGM program. Victoria Ralph, executive member for ONEIG, greeted everyone with a smile and light-hearted tone: “This year’s AGM is once again taking place in an especially important time as we turn the corner of this pandemic, we celebrate the triumphs we had and the trying times we’ve faced and persevered through.”

Our strong influence and engaged dialogue with political leaders was evident when Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott expressed her appreciation for RNAO’s relentless advocacy in health care. “More than ever during the pandemic, RNAO, under Doris’s leadership, has been a valued partner in our fight against COVID-19 as nurses have been on the front lines across our health-care system keeping Ontarians safe,” said Elliott.

Other political leaders such as Rod Phillips, minister of long-term care; Andrea Horwath, leader of the Official Opposition; Steven Del Duca, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party; and Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario thanked RNAO members for their resilience. They also shared the work that still needs to be done, including improving mental health access for nurses and all Ontarians, making investments to retain nurses in the province and repealing Bill 124. International nursing leaders Annette Kennedy, president of the International Council of Nurses and Dr. Richard Ricciardi, president of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing also shared greetings and praise for RNAO’s work, as well as their thoughts about tackling the pandemic worldwide. 

See the full list of speakers and their presentations online.

RNAO’s Opening Ceremonies marked the graduation of 21 Canadian and international Best Practice Spotlight Organizations (BPSO) that completed their three-year candidacy with RNAO. They demonstrated commitment and capacity to implement multiple BPGs and create an evidence-based culture – even during a pandemic. Congratulations to the designated BPSOs – we look forward to continuing and enriching work together. Please watch our celebration video.

On June 25 we shared a virtual luncheon with nursing students. We celebrated their triumphs during the pandemic and were treated to a magnetic presentation by the Nursing Students of Ontario (NSO) titled Blazing New Trails as Student Leaders. Presenters Megan Wood, vice president of NSO; Rachel Radyk, co-founder of RNAO’s Indigenous Nurses and Allies Interest Group and Chantal Byrnes Leadbeater, NSO’s policy and political action officer spoke about their personal leadership stories. “I reflect on my journey and I look at my achievements as a leader. I wonder what I did differently to get to that path. And the answer is one simple thing: I believed in myself. I believed in my own voice and surrounded myself with positive people who would uplift me,” says Radyk.

We began the formal AGM with a moment of silence for RNAO past president and my dear friend Charlotte Noesgaard and all the Ontario nurses we lost during the pandemic. They will be missed and continue to live in our hearts and in our actions.

During my CEO report, I reflected on the added trauma that is sweeping Indigenous brothers and sisters as unmarked graves of residential school children are uncovered. I recommitted to use the power of RNAO to walk side by side in the fight to bring these children to rest in peace with their families.

I also introduced past nursing leaders who shined the way for nurses: Charlotte Edith Anderson (first Native Canadian RN), Mary Seacole (British Jamaican nurse), Harriet Tubman (American abolitionist and political activist) and Florence Nightingale (founder of modern nursing). I reflected on how nurses and RNAO’s response to the pandemic also sought, the same as those past leaders, to protect, support, inform and advocate for their communities. These are the four pillars of our COVID-19 response.

Even before the pandemic was declared – in January 2020 – we urged a precautionary approach to public health measures. We protected and served Ontarians by launching VIANurse. We supported nurses and the public through webinars and social movements such as #TogetherWeCanDoIt and #Maskathon. We kept nurses and other health professionals informed through our official COVID-19 portal, this blog that reaches over 300,000 at home and abroad, and 6,879 media hits since the start of the pandemic. And finally, we advocated for at-risk populations.

Alongside RNAO’s pandemic work to protect Ontarians and nurses, we continued to lead change. We brought policy initiatives for vulnerable populations such as long-term care residents and persons affected by the opioids crisis who were greatly impacted by the pandemic. We expanded the BPG program with three new BPGs, 21 graduating BPSOs and launching new BPSO/BPSO OHTs at home and abroad. We are immensely proud of our work with Indigenous communities developing Indigenous-led BPGs and BPSOs. Such advances are due to the work of RNAO’s formidable staff. I closed my CEO report presentation with important announcements: 1) a new Care Centre & RNAO Mentorship Program, 2) an NP Research Chair, and 3) RNAO uniforms. I will expand on these new initiatives in the weeks to come. At the end of the CEO report I was proud to unveil our 2020-2021 annual report, organized this year following the Board of Directors ENDs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford joined us June 25 in the afternoon to thank RNAO and nurses and to share about healthcare investments by the Ontario government. I thanked the premier for his announcements and emphasized RNAO’s call for investments to retain nurses and combat the mass exodus from the profession following the pandemic. I reminded the Premier on his promise at Queen’s Park Day to increase university enrollment for 100 additional NPs this Fall, as well as to fund the hiring of an additional 100 NPs for long-term care. We also called on the provincial and federal governments to ensure an end to racism and discrimination and ensuring Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water. 

The results of one member, one vote were revealed and new directors elected: president-elect Claudette Holloway, Region 1 representative Rachel Colquhoun and Region 3 representative Loretta McCormick. RNAO’s board of directors for 2021-2022 is available online. As a grassroots organization, members debated 17 resolutions. One was on a strategy to address substance use. Another on including voices of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when teaching nurses and providing care. A Board resolution requiring a clinical placement in LTC during the BScN program passed. Resolutions highlight the voices of members and guide RNAO during the year to come.

Recognition Awards honoured outstanding RNAO members and other health-care providers. Media Awards recognized top health-care journalists. Congratulations again to this year’s award recipients! Please see the Recognition Awards video and Media Awards video.

The second day of the AGM closed with president Morgan Hoffarth’s report. She shared her thoughts on her first term: “I’m so proud of how our professional association and members have shined over the past year. RNAO has been at the forefront in the media and advisory tables providing key updates and key information not just to members, but to the public.”

Morgan and I were also pleased to welcome president-elect Dr. Claudette Holloway who will take the reins next year. No doubt she will also be a formidable nursing leader representing RNAO and its members. We thanked deeply our Immediate Past-President Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite who has served eight years in the RNAO BOD and is the recipient of RNAO’s Merit Award and Leadership Award in Political Action. She is also the co-chair of the Black Nurses Task Force. Dr. Cooper-Brathwaite is a leader, educator, advocate and change agent making a difference in nursing and health systems, provincially and internationally. See our tribute video to Angela.

The final day of the AGM also coincided with Ontario’s Pride Weekend. RNAO celebrated by hosting a virtual launch and media conference for our new, groundbreaking Promoting 2SLGBTQI+ Health Equity best practice guideline (BPG) as well as our position statement on respecting sexually and gender diverse communities.

The BPG’s expert panel co-chairs Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc and RN Sheena Howard used evidence and personal stories to explain why the BPG’s 10 recommendations are needed across all health sectors to improve access and quality of care for 2SLGBTQI+ communities. “We have big hopes for this best practice guideline and the ways in which it can impact care and health equity across the globe,” says Howard on behalf of the expert panel. The BPG is available now for free download.

We were thrilled to release our revised position statement, which was developed in collaboration with RNAO’s Rainbow Nursing Interest Group (RNIG – Rainbow). Longtime RNAO member and President of RNIG – Rainbow Dr. Paul-André Gauthier presented the statement and said it “underscores the need to ensure sexually and gender diverse individuals feel safe when accessing care and their experience is person-centred, inclusive and appropriate.”

The AGM wrapped on June 26 with our engaging closing keynote discussion on protecting Ontarians and leading change: the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes and experiences of nurses. I was honoured to lead a panel of seven esteemed nursing colleagues from different sectors:

Each panelist spoke candidly about challenges, frustrations and learnings from the pandemic. Despite differences in vantage points, the recommended solutions were consistent: increased nursing human resources; repealing Bill 124; emphasis on long-term care, home and community care; and improved infection prevention and control measures. Thank you to the panelists for sharing reflections. It’s been an emotional time – improving health care for all requires working together on an integrated approach to care!

It was an absolute privilege to have Elder Perry McLeod-Shabogesic join us again to provide closing remarks following the keynote panel. “I look to the pandemic as a fast…to help ground us, reconnect us, and bring our spirit and consciousness back together again,” Mcleod-Shabogesic shared. 

Big thanks go to more than 800 attendees celebrating nursing and the silver linings of an unbelievably challenging year! Visit RNAO’s AGM portal to download our 2020-2021 annual report, rewatch videos, read the winners of the Recognition and Media Awards, and more. Check out our Facebook gallery for photo highlights from all three days of the event.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget to save the date for our 97th AGM happening June 23-26, 2022 – hopefully this time in-person!