RNAO continues to raise its voice in the media: Summary of media coverage in December 2020

Since our last update on November’s media activity, RNAO has continued its extraordinary and ongoing commitment to speaking out on pressing issues that impact the public during this pandemic. Leading into the holiday season in December, it became more critical than ever that Ontarians follow public health measures to suffocate COVID-19. On Dec. 21, the provincial government announced that it would be implementing a province-wide lockdown, but not until Dec. 26. The rationale for the five-day delay was to give businesses time to clear inventory. RNAO was shocked and said it was reckless to wait until Boxing Day to implement these vital and life-saving measures.

As we stated in our Dec. 21 media release “saving lives must be paramount. Saving one life is more important than shopping.” During an interview on 610 CKTB, I told host Matt Holmes that “the inventory of illness and resulting deaths we will see is not worth the inventory of any store.” We insisted the government needs to be consistent in its message to Ontarians. The premier says he is concerned about the health of Ontarians while concurrently delaying action until ICUs continue to fill up – and then delayed even further to allow businesses to stay open “to do their inventory.” This is an inconsistent public health message. On CBC Toronto, I said that waiting so long to implement the lockdown means we will need tougher and longer lockdowns in the go-forward.

RNAO was calling for aggressive action on the second wave already in early September. The association hosted a joint media conference with geriatrician Nathan Stall on Nov. 13, calling on the government to implement a full lockdown. We also re-issued a joint statement on Dec. 10 with the Ontario Hospital Association, the Ontario Medical Association, WeRPN and the Respiratory Society of Ontario urging government to implement tougher government restrictions and make sure Ontarians follow public health measures. CP24 shared our message that “the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is rising and could have potentially devastating consequences for patients.”

Tragically, with over 4,200 new cases today, many ICUs at capacity, and health-care workers beyond exhaustion, RNAO’s concerns regarding the limitations of Ontario policy have been validated. And we have not yet seen the worst of this second wave. The lack of timely and stronger action is the reason we will see consistently over 4,000 new cases daily for the next two weeks, and a number possibly edging as high as 5,000 in February. This is why we continue to urge Premier Ford for immediate action – no time to wait:

  1. An immediate and complete lockdown with curfew, similar to what Quebec has implemented.
  2. No reopening of schools on January 11, as scheduled, and reassess the situation at the end of January (thankfully the government has already announced an extension of the closure until January 25).
  3. Increased support for vulnerable populations.
  4. Full speed ahead, 24x7, with vaccination in long-term care homes.

RNAO has been at the forefront of a drawn out and unacceptably delayed struggle to address the heartbreaking impact of COVID-19 on the long-term care (LTC) sector. At this point, we are facing negligence on a massive scale that has led to the decimation of a whole generation of Ontarians living in LTC homes.

To recap, on Dec. 17 the Ontario government released its staffing plan, A Better Place to Live, A Better Place to Work. While pleased to see the government make progress on the urgent needs in LTC, RNAO immediately vocalized the plan’s lack of urgency and legislated action to help residents, foreseeing tragic consequences. We were shocked that the promised four hours of direct care per resident per day will not come into full effect until 2024-2025. The announcement is, in effect, an election promise rather than acknowledgement of the need for urgent change. Under the government’s proposed plan, only 15 minutes of additional care per day, on average, will be provided to residents before the next provincial election.

As I told Dahlia Kurtz of Ottawa’s 580 CFRA on December 18, our concerns were not addressed, and the biggest one is that there is no commitment to legislate this additional care. RNAO has been advocating for two decades, and we are not going to ever give up on this push for four worked hours of direct care. Our focus is now to reach out to all political parties to ensure they commit to legislating these hours for every resident, every day. That way, when the election does happen – provincially and nationally – we will be asking nurses and the public to support political platforms that commit to the four worked hours of nursing and support care enshrined in legislation.

During the second wave of COVID-19, which started in early September, we have continued to see an increasing number of outbreaks and more deaths in our LTC homes. At Sunnycrest Nursing Home in Whitby, 162 residents contracted the virus, leading to provincial intervention. As I told the Toronto Star on December 9, the dire situation at Sunnycrest and other LTC homes will have a lasting impact not only on the residents but also the staff. “It’s impossible and it’s excruciating,” I said, suggesting that many nurses will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when the pandemic comes to an end. “They feel guilty, they feel distraught emotionally, and they feel afraid.”

Premiers and leaders from each province and territory met with Prime Minister Trudeau in early December. Ahead of this meeting, Dr. Carole Estabrooks from the University of Alberta and I, co-authored an op-ed. Published in the Toronto Star, it was about the urgent need for the federal government to develop national standards for LTC. National standards were promised by the federal government during its Speech from the Throne in September. These standards are crucial to help fix the LTC system. We need all levels of government to come together. As noted in another article about national standards, in which RNAO was sought out for its perspective, we told the Toronto Star: “We have all failed collectively, so now it’s time for national standards so this tragedy never happens again.” I urge you to sign our Action Alert calling for national standards here.

We all know the pressure is also mounting in Ontario hospitals as more COVID-19 patients are hospitalized and ICU admissions increase. Hospitals have been preparing for a surge in cases. “Unless we behave during the holidays, we will crumble the [health-care] system,” I told Global News on December 16.

After almost a year of this pandemic, we are finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a vaccine. In early December, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in Canada, and inoculation began Dec. 14. A little more than one week later, on Dec. 23, the Moderna vaccine received approval as well. The government has set plans in motion to make sure those most vulnerable receive this vaccine first. Vaccinating health-care workers and LTC residents first is welcome news, and what we advocated for, but as we said on Global News, vulnerable communities, where many essential workers live, also need to be considered a priority group.

Much to our surprise and disappointment, Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Ministry of Health says this modified scheduled was requested by hospitals, but RNAO believes this closure was unacceptable given we are in the middle of a pandemic with a virus that takes no breaks at all. Vaccinating our frontline health-care workers and LTC residents as quickly as possible is absolutely critical if we are to see that light at the end of the tunnel grow stronger. I told Craig Needles on 610 CKTB that, “there is no excuse. People are eager to take the vaccine. Residents and their essential caregivers desperately need the vaccine.” When it comes to vaccinating in general, Canada has been slow to implement vaccination programs. I told CTV News that this virus does not take a weekend and doesn’t take time to sleep at night. We must fight this virus 24/7.

While the news of a vaccine is something to be applauded, it does not address the current crisis. It will take several months for everyone who wants a vaccine to receive one, and no one should use the vaccine rollout to distract from the urgent needs today. We must continue to implement public health restrictions according to the needs at each juncture, and we must uphold all public health measures, including staying at home as much as possible, washing our hands frequently, wearing a face mask and keeping two metres apart from those outside of our household – as well as not traveling from one zone to another, let alone from one city or country to another.

Governments must address the needs of those essential workers who cannot stay at home or those whose conditions do not allow for physical distancing and isolation (e.g. multigenerational families in small living spaces and persons experiencing homelessness). The government must also institute a ban on evictions during COVID-19. On Dec. 27, I wrote an op-ed for the Hamilton Spectator about this issue. During a pandemic, we must protect people and allow them to continue to live in a safe environment. As I wrote, “preventing evictions is not just about providing desperate economic relief for tenants; it is also about their health.”

We have been very busy advocating on behalf of nurses and all health professionals and on behalf of Ontarians. For the month of December, we had 235 media hits from various interviews in print, online, radio and TV. Visit our COVID-19 press room to see the latest news about the pandemic. January is already building up as extremely busy as well!