RNAO, once again, plays major role in the media during November

Media outlets, large and small, mainstream and otherwise, have played a very important role in the response to the pandemic. We at RNAO thank those in the media reading this blog for your vital contribution to inform the public as we work together – each of us in our roles – to tackle this nasty virus. It is through the media and by all of us pulling together that we sustain the togetherness that is needed to get us all to the finish line, hopefully no longer than a year from now.  

Today, we bring you a summary of RNAO’s media engagement for the month of November. Our extensive media exposure focused on key issues addressing the urgency of the pandemic situation. This includes the problematic provincial leadership in recent weeks; the auditor general’s report on the province’s handling of the pandemic; the ongoing crisis in long-term care; burnout among nurses and other healthcare workers; as well as the need for a #COVIDzero strategy

This past week, two issues in particular attracted the media to RNAO. The first was Premier Ford’s decision to introduce a surprise motion in the legislature to extend the contract of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams to September 2021. His contract was set to end in February 2021. As many of you know, RNAO has been vocal about the urgency of having decisive science-based leadership during the pandemic, both in terms of keeping COVID-19 under control, and the ability to communicate clear, trustful and consistent messaging. Unfortunately, Dr. Williams has not provided that leadership, and that’s why RNAO (and others) had earlier called for his resignation. The media was replete again this week with reactions, with many showing surprise, disapproval and alarm over Premier’s Ford decision. Numerous media outlets contacted us for our response, including the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star, CTV News and Now Toronto. I told the Globe and Mail that I was “speechless” by the news of Dr. Williams’ extension because the government “did not take advantage of the summer with low numbers of cases to suffocate this virus, and that at every single turn, we (Ontario) have done things slower than we should have.”

The second issue that attracted media to RNAO was Wednesday’s release of Auditor General (AG) Bonnie Lysyk’s report, in which she notes the province fell short on emergency management, outbreak planning and decision-making, and laboratory testing and contact tracing. She outlines that Ontario’s response to COVID-19 was slower and more reactive relative to other jurisdictions, and was disorganized and inconsistent. She also said Dr. Williams “did not fully exercise his powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to respond to COVID-19.” RNAO has been speaking out for the past eight months about the province’s delayed response to COVID-19. We also shared our frustration and concerns regarding not taking full advantage of the quiet summer months to prepare for the expected pandemic wave during the fall. On CP24, I said: “It’s critical we get that feedback (from the AG). We were late in starting and our concern all along about Dr. Williams has been too little, too late. The way we need to act now needs to change. If we don’t send clear messages, we will go from bad to worse.” We are also urging to avoid politicizing the pandemic, including the vaccine related plans. On this, I urge you to listen to this interview and retweet this important tweet.  

As the second wave continues, the strain on nurses and other health workers has intensified. Burnout is a major concern. Nurses are exhausted, working longer hours and forgoing vacations. An academic study sponsored by CUPE was released this week on the stressors they are experiencing. It showed that Ontario healthcare workers are feeling overworked and facing psychological stress due to COVID-19. At RNAO we were not surprised with this study. Nurses and health-care workers are hanging on by their nails. “People are exhausted and are grieving all the time. Both because of wanting to do good, and having slow movement in replenishing of [staffing] and other resources,” I told 580 CFRA. In another interview with CTV news, I explained that we want politicians to focus on controlling the spread of the virus. It’s suffocating our health providers, Ontarians, the health system and our economy. On CTV News, I urged the public to keep respecting social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks; as well as to stay home as much as possible. These measures will protect health-care and other essential workers, so they can keep helping us all.

Last Friday (Nov. 20), the Ontario government announced that Toronto and Peel would be moving into a lockdown for 28 days. Although we welcomed the announcement, it fell short of expectations RNAO outlined during its media conference on Nov. 13. We wanted a complete lockdown of all non-essential businesses; we were not looking for half measures. While the government dithered for another week, the virus continued to spread unabated in the community.  A failure to take bold, decisive action much earlier is the reason COVID-19 is running rampant in several communities today. Please read our complete statement.

The fight against COVID-19 continues and our loved ones in long-term care (LTC) are dying. In the summer, we urged Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton to address the severe staffing shortfalls of RNs, RPNs, NPs and PSWs in Ontario’s LTC homes to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19, yet no action has been taken to secure the health and safety of residents and staff. As I told CP24 in an interview, the Ontario government needs to act urgently to commit both funding and action to LTC if we are to ensure seniors receive safe and dignified care. We were glad to see the Ontario government commit to a minimum of four worked hours of direct care for residents, as this is something RNAO has been advocating for over a decade, as outlined in our Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee. However, when we learned that the four hours of care won’t be fully implemented until 2024-2025, it sounded like an election promise as more lives continue to be tragically lost due to gaps in the LTC sector.

We are relentless in our insistence for four worked hours of care per day, per resident, to be immediately and urgently implemented. And we encourage you to add your voice to our Action Alert and on Twitter using our hashtag #4Hours4Seniors.

Our seniors deserve to live with dignity and to be safe. I told Global News that the government has lost its moral compass when it comes to protecting our seniors in LTC. “How many more seniors will needlessly die and how many more staff will get sick?” RNAO has been also urging action from Minister Fullerton, yet the abandonment and tragedy has been unfathomable. I told CBC News: "I have never seen such disregard for the lives of residents and their staff in long-term care, and by extension, the lives of families left in anguish.” We must use our collective voices to put pressure on the government to fix LTC.

On Nov. 9, The Globe and Mail’s health columnist André Picard hosted an RNAO cross-country meeting with six panelists about the need for implementation of national standards for LTC, a commitment the federal government made in its Speech from the Throne.  COVID-19 has put a spotlight on what we’ve known for a long time: long-term care in Canada is broken, and the time to fix it is now!  We will continue the conversation on mobilizing for reform in LTC throughout Canada, and we encourage you to join our webinar on Dec. 14 – which will be moderated by André Picard once again. Again we will call to ensure families and essential care partners are allowed to continue to visit and support their loved ones in LTC. This call is guided by a basic human necessity and right.

The provincial budget was released on Nov. 5 and we were disappointed to see that no money, not a single penny, was allocated in that budget to helping vulnerable communities survive COVID-19. We are well into the second wave and we will have no chance at containing this virus if serious restrictions are not put into place. Ontarians deserve more. Our seniors deserve more. The budget did not include any funding for hiring RNs, RPNs, NPs and PSWs for LTC homes in the province. Our President Morgan Hoffarth told the Toronto Star: “There is no excuse for postponing the urgently needed staffing increase in the province’s nursing homes.”

Several epidemiologists and other experts, including RNAO, began a Twitter campaign calling for the federal and provincial governments, public health units and public officials to pursue a #COVIDzero strategy. This approach addresses the need for a common objective to reinvigorate the national pandemic response. It aims to: target zero cases and tolerate a minimal number of COVID-19 across Canada; invest and deploy a world-class test-trace-isolate-support system; and support communities and businesses disproportionately impacted by the virus. RNAO is fully engaged in this campaign and urges you to join the call – retweet my tweet and RNAO's tweet. Add the #COVIDzero banner to your feed.

With more than 400 media hits between Oct. 26 and Nov. 27, and robust daily social media traffic, RNAO is demonstrating its extraordinary and ongoing commitment of speaking out for nursing and speaking out for health during this unprecedented time. For the coverage of our media presence, visit RNAO’s COVID-19 Press Room.