RNAO’s continuing media profile: The January report

We’ve begun a new year with even more determination to address the challenges brought forward by the relentless COVID-19 virus. RNAO continues its central role in the media, speaking about key issues and continuing our advocacy efforts to mobilize change and help bring an end to this pandemic. This is a summary of our January interventions.

Just over one year ago, on January 25, 2020, the first COVID-19 case in Canada was reported. It has been a hard year for all Canadians, but especially for residents in long term care, their loved ones, and their nursing and support care staff. They have had no relief from suffering and hardship for a full year! Also, heart-wrenching have been the experiences and death for persons in ICU, away from their loved ones. We salute the heroic work of RNs, NPs, physicians, RTs and others who in these settings have tried so hard to save lives and sustain humanity under the most difficult circumstances. Indeed, health professionals in all sectors have and continue to give it their all – and remain dedicated to providing care despite the unimaginable challenges.

On January 1, the Toronto Star published New Year’s wishes from prominent Canadians. My statement read: “Please bring more laughter and less pain, more hugs and less distance, and a COVID-19 free fall! Healing for the grieving and help for the impoverished. Let’s redouble our efforts to build a stronger health system for all, a green and just recovery devoid of discrimination, racism, violence and inequality. Together we must do it!”

Stress and burnout can affect nurses during normal times, but they become magnified and unbearable as the months wear on during this pandemic. RNAO member and chair of the Staff Nurses Interest Group (SNIG), Lhamo Dolkar, spoke with CBC on January 12 about her experience. “It’s a vicious cycle that’s ongoing and is affecting patient safety and our safety,” she said about the burnout nurses are experiencing. In another article on January 29, I said that “politicians have no understanding of the unwavering commitment of nurses and other health-care professionals or the price that is being paid for that commitment.” It is crucial for the Ontario government to increase mental health supports for frontline staff during COVID-19 and then afterward. The news of the tragic and sudden death of Toronto RN Stefanie Van Nguyen was absolutely devastating. On CHCH News, January 25, I said: “It makes you think, who else is feeling dark inside?” If you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out for help. You are not alone. Read RNAO’s statement on Stefanie’s passing here. On Wednesday, February 3, RNAO hosted an open forum for RNs, NPs, RPNs and nursing students to allow nurses to talk openly about burnout and mental health while working through COVID-19. The participants, 130 of them, shared candidly and generously. The open forum is a biweekly event. The next one will be held on February 17, 2:30 – 4 p.m. ET (see details below).

As Ontario continues its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, a central issue for RNAO has been to ensure that vaccines are going to those who need them first: long-term care (LTC) home residents and their essential family care partners. It was incredibly disheartening that the first phase of the vaccination plan did not include all of them. “It’s another tragedy,” I told the Toronto Star on  January 4. “The reality is all the excuses used for not vaccinating all LTC homes residents first are just that, excuses.” In another interview with the Canadian Press on January 25 I explained how the government should have focused on residents in LTC when it first began giving out the vaccine. I told Dahlia Kurtz on 580 CFRA on January 15 that any vaccines currently in the province should be administered 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to help save lives in LTC. The good news is that public pressure brought about the government’s decision to announce a faster timeline to vaccinate residents in LTC homes.

And when it comes to vaccinating others around the province, RNAO has urged the provincial government to keep nurses in mind. Thousands of nurses in public health, primary care and home care already play a central role in vaccination programs, including giving flu shots and other immunizations. And they can be an effective force in inoculating millions of Ontarians. They, along with physicians and pharmacists, should be deployed if we are serious about scaling up a rapid vaccine plan. I told the Toronto Star on January 16 that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a rollout. We already have existing and established networks in place and nurses as well as physicians and pharmacists are ready and eager to lend their expertise.

January also saw the Ontario government announce that it would be adding more ICU beds. However, this won’t help if there aren’t more nurses to take care of patients in those beds. “That’s what happened in Italy in the first wave. At the end of the day, it was not the beds. It was that they did not have enough RNs that specialize in ICU” that constrained their ability to expand, I told the Globe and Mail on February 1.

On January 12, we called on the premier to implement measures to suffocate COVID-19. These included a full province-wide lockdown, not reopening schools while the virus is running rampant, especially in hot zones, increasing supports for vulnerable populations, including 10 paid sick days, a full moratorium on evictions and vaccinating residents in LTC homes 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a week. We had an op-ed published in the Hamilton Spectator on December 27 about eviction moratoriums and how preventing evictions is not just about economic relief but protecting the health of tenants. RNAO welcomed the news of the Ontario government’s stay-at-home order and again urged the premier on January 12 to “increase supports for vulnerable populations because some people simply can’t afford to abide by a stay-at-home order.” When it comes to paid sick days, I told Toronto.com on January 14, “they absolutely need to move forward with paid sick days for essential workers who, through no fault of their own, are spreading the virus.” Join us in calling for paid sick days, along with other vital public health measures, such as a moratorium on evictions and accommodation for those awaiting test results for COVID-19. You can help make a difference by signing our Action Alert.

Looking back to late December, you’ll remember that Ontario’s finance minister resigned after he travelled to the Caribbean in the midst of the lockdown. In January, we learned of two hospital CEOs who also travelled. “We have been working tirelessly day-in and day-out. To have leaders that are travelling internationally or abroad for pleasure is not something I think people will respond favourably to,” RNAO president Morgan Hoffarth said in a CBC online story on January 5. I was interviewed by CBC London Morning on January 11 about another hospital CEO, who ignored public health guidelines when he travelled over the holidays and on numerous occasions throughout the pandemic. Not only did he ignore guidelines, but he abandoned his staff in the middle of a pandemic.

It was also shocking to learn that a London NICU nurse travelled to Washington to speak at an event spreading anti-mask disinformation. In an interview with CBC on January 12, I explained how “damaging” this is “because what people need is factual information.” In an interview with Global News on January 19, I called it a betrayal of public trust. “For a nurse to use that public trust and betray the same public we are trying to protect and serve every single minute, it’s just outrageous.”

Toward the end of January, we witnessed vicious attacks against scientists whose science is not palatable to some government positions. I joined other colleagues in a Queen’s Park Briefing article on January 27 arguing these attacks pose a distraction from what really matters right now — tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. I was quoted as saying “it is tragic, that at the time when we should be completely focused on suffocat(ing) this… virus ... that we find the time to attack scientists and people who have given every ounce of their ... time every day to try to help with this pandemic.”

As the months of this pandemic wear on, you can count on RNAO to continue to forcefully advocate with government, all opposition parties, and on the media on behalf of Ontarians, nurses and other health providers. In January, we had 285 media hits related to COVID-19. To keep up with our COVID-19 media coverage, visit our COVID-19 Press Room.