RNAO’s continuing media profile: The July 2021 report

In July, RNAO launched its #FullyVaccinated campaign to encourage Ontarians to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. RNAO also spoke out about vaccine hesitancy, #MandatoryVaccination for healthcare and education workers, a safe reopening plan for schools as well as nurse understaffing.

On July 9, the province announced the move into step three of reopening on July 16 – nearly a week earlier than planned. The measures allow indoor dining with no limits on the number of patrons at a table but with physical distancing in place. Essential and non-essential retail can have more customers in their shops with capacity limited by the ability to maintain physical distancing. I told QP Briefing on July 9 that I wasn’t concerned about the earlier move to step three but rather the lack of restriction on indoor capacity given what we know about aerosol transmission and the risks of the Delta variant. I added that we must keep focused on speeding up vaccination and maintaining indoor masking.

RNAO has been laser-focused on enhancing vaccine access and uptake. On July 7 I told QP Briefing that vaccine outreach requires a tailored approach to the needs of the community. Operation Remote Immunity is a pandemic success story, a model of Indigenous-led policy implemented in partnership with government that has helped achieve strong vaccination rates. "We really need to work community by community to find out why they're hesitant," I observed. Enlisting community leaders, including influencers on social media, is crucial. I expressed support for providing incentives if that achieves that an additional 20% of Ontarians get their shot. I reiterated that homecare nurses are eager and ready to administer vaccines in Ontarian’s homes as that will boost vaccination rates among homebound persons.

We urge everyone to join our #FullyVaccinated social media campaign, launched on July 15. Tag RNAO on Twitter (@RNAO) and Instagram (@registerednurses) in photos of you and your loved ones when receiving your vaccine. Give your reasons for being #FullyVaccinated. Check out the tweets shared with RNAO so far. Every eligible individual should get both doses of the vaccine. We will also continue to insist on #MandatoryVaccination for all healthcare workers and school staff (allowing for medical exemptions).

As I told KitchenerToday on July 16, “We have a due diligence as health professionals to keep our patients safe.” RNAO called on Premier Ford to ensure healthcare workers are vaccinated. On July 20 we sent him an open letter urging him to take immediate action. The letter was shared on Reddit and was flooded with support from people in Ontario and beyond. On July 19, I spoke with Arlene Bynon on SiriusXM167 about RNAO’s call for #MandatoryVaccination for healthcare workers and said that “It is unfair to put patients through the stress of not knowing if their healthcare worker is vaccinated or not.” It is also unfair for vaccinated healthcare workers to be put at risk by their unvaccinated colleagues.

The pandemic is far from over and the severity and impact of the fourth wave led by the Delta variant depends on vaccination rates – and other public health measures – such as quarantine, contact tracing, isolation, ventilation and indoor universal masking (all aspects Alberta has tragically decided to abandon). RNAO has insisted that vaccines should be brought to the workplace and provide workers with an additional two paid sick days for vaccination. Epidemiologists and other experts are supporting these critical asks. So are thousands of nurses and members of the public through Twitter and other social media. Please, sign our Action Alert to let the Ontario government know mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers is needed now. Every signature helps (already 2,374)!

On July 28, RNAO sent a second urgent open letter to the premier about safe reopening of schools in the fall. We call on government to improve ventilation, maintain universal masking indoors, reduce class sizes and mandate vaccination for teachers. We also want the 625 public health nursing positions assigned to schools during the pandemic to be funded on permanent basis, as well as the 50 community wellness nurses already working with First Nations communities. Please join over 1,700 signatories to our Action Alert and kindly share our tweet.

We continue to see the pandemic’s effect on nurses, with many feeling burnt out and considering leaving the profession. Our Work and Wellbeing Survey Results report, published in March 2021, found that the nursing workforce could see a 15.6% loss within the next year – a much higher loss than the typical rate of roughly 4.8%. “It would be devastating for our healthcare system. We are not prepared to lose 15 per cent of our RNs across the province,” said our President Morgan Hoffarth in a CBC News interview on July 24. The stress and workload that has been put on nurses and other healthcare workers is not sustainable. “We’re feeling pretty overloaded, pretty overburdened,” said RNAO member Denise Jeffrey in the same article.

Intensive care units (ICU) in Ontario are being hit again. This time, they are feeling the effects of an understaffing crisis with many nurses leaving the specialization. In a July 25 CTV News interview, RNAO member and ICU RN Birgit Umaigba said, “There are not enough ICU nurses in Ontario and (many) existing, experienced nurses are taking time off or people are just quitting because of the stress of the pandemic and very, very poor working conditions.” On July 29 I told the Globe and Mail that “the province is facing a crisis as burnt-out nurses leave their jobs, and warned ramping up operating rooms would be impossible without addressing the profession’s issues – including scrapping the government’s 1-per-cent cap on all wage increases.” We don’t want to “burn the last group of nurses left,” I added. “These people have been working 17 months non-stop ... Nurses don’t grow on trees.”

Hospitals are trying to cope with some opting to use team-based nursing models on a permanent basis. Southlake Regional Health Centre plans to implement this model, which consists of partnering critical care nurses with non-critical care staff to treat patients. 96% of the hospital’s respiratory therapists and RNs in Southlake’s intensive care, cardiovascular and cardiac units signed a letter stating this team-based model puts patients at risk. Team nursing was first implemented in the 70s and quickly abandoned as it proved to be unsafe for patients. Now, fifty years later, it will have even more disastrous outcomes with an increasingly complex population and shortened length of stay in hospitals. On July 23, I told the Toronto Star that this model “will end the nursing profession and put patient care in dire situations.” That same day I told CTV News that “Ontario went into the pandemic with the lowest RN-to-population ratio (in the country). When you layer it (with the toll of the pandemic), it’s toxic.” RNAO continues to call on the premier to repeal Bill 124 – legislation that limits wage increases. Make your voice heard by signing our Action Alert.

This month, our media coverage resulted in 305 hits. RNAO will continue to speak out with our members through the media and through our advocacy with the government and all political parties. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Visit our Press Room to see the full list of our COVID-19 media coverage.