RNAO’s continuing media profile: The June report

This month, RNAO spoke out on a number of prominent issues in the media including COVID-19 vaccinations, the province’s reopening framework, the ineffectiveness of signing bonuses for new staff, the urgency to repeal Bill 124, and the welcoming of Ontario’s new Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.

Ontarians continue to speed up vaccination. RNAO’s position is that vaccination is critical to protect health-care workers, their loved ones and their patients. On June 1, I told CP24 that for healthcare providers to get vaccinated is “extremely important because of the vulnerability of (LTC) residents. The way to do it is education and bringing the vaccines to these homes.” The Ontario government announced on June 10 that it would accelerate the eligibility for mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) in areas where the prevalence of the Delta variant is high. However, individuals who received the AstraZeneca vaccine would still need to wait 12 weeks after their first dose. I tweeted that the province needed to shorten the time interval between doses to four weeks, which QP Briefing immediately shared. The pressure continued to mount in mainstream and social media and on June 12, the Ontario government announced they were shortening the time interval for the second dose to eight weeks.

When the province’s reopening plan was announced at the beginning of June, people wondered if the government would reopen schools. On June 2, Premier Ford announced that schools would not reopen for in-person learning this school year. RNAO supported this approach on Twitter and in media interviews. On June 3 RNAO issued a media release saying the risk of reopening schools for the remaining three weeks of the academic year is too high. That same day I told Sudbury.com that while children’s mental health and academic development is important, “the risk of wave four is too high.” Children up to 11 years old are not being vaccinated. Elementary schools remain congregate settings with large groups of unvaccinated people – the perfect setting for a creeping virus to take hold. With an aggressive and dangerous Delta variant, we should prepare now for a safe reopening in September. As I said in my May 29 blog, this entails investments in ventilation, required renovations and full vaccination of all staff and children above 12. We should also invest in support for disadvantaged children, special education and mental health programs.

On June 7, it was announced that the province would enter step one of the reopening plan on the upcoming Friday (June 11). Step one of the plan permitted outdoor dining, outdoor fitness classes and religious services. On June 7 in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal, I said we would have preferred lower daily infections before reopening but were hopeful that the province would proceed cautiously. The second half of June saw higher numbers of vaccinated people and lower daily case counts, which led to the Ontario government announcing the move to step two on June 30, two days ahead of its original plan of July 2. In this second stage, hair salons and personal care services will be allowed to reopen and capacity limits for essential retail increase from 25 per cent to 50 per cent while non-essential retail will increase from 15 per cent to 25 per cent. Gathering limits also increase: up to 25 people allowed outdoors and five people indoors. On June 24, I told QP Briefing that nurses endorse this step but urge the government to monitor potential risks, citing the re-emergence of pandemic waves in Israel and UK despite high vaccination rates. “We can’t afford more people getting sick and dying.” I also mentioned that Ontario should be mindful of the impact of COVID long-haulers on the health system.

Hospitals and other health sectors are experiencing nursing understaffing, which has prompted some hospitals to offer signing bonuses for new employees. In a June 16 Global News article, I said that these bonuses are “a short-term band-aid for a long-term problem.” The province needs a different approach to solve RN understaffing because bonuses are simply disruptive. They move nurses around instead of addressing the root causes. Bonuses are good, but not enough to fix the problems that nurses are facing right now, said RNAO member Eram Chhogala, an emergency trauma RN at the Scarborough Health Network and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). “I think that offering an incentive is a nice idea, but it doesn’t fully change the way that we’re going to be experiencing the pandemic,” she said. “It covers costs, which is good, but it doesn’t heal anything else. It doesn’t heal the emotional burden. It doesn’t heal the emotional trauma that a lot of front liners have had to experience.”

The province is supporting our call for increased seats nursing programs, but we also need to implement better strategies to retain the nurses we have. In a June 11 Ottawa Citizen article, I explained that nurses are leaving Ontario to work in the US. We must highlight opportunities for RNs in Ontario. “We need to very quickly send a message that things will get better so we don’t lose them to somewhere else.” RNAO recommended a better way in our Work and Wellbeing Survey report released in March, aimed at effective retention and recruitment of RNs and NPs in our province. Recommendations include support for early and mid-career RNs as well as improved staffing levels.

On June 26, Dr. Kieran Moore officially took over as Ontario’s new chief medical officer of health. I have praised Dr. Moore’s work as the medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health. I told InsideHalton.com on June 21 that “Dr. Moore has been a stellar performer during the entire pandemic and will no doubt do a terrific job in this new post.” I also told QP Briefing (June 24) that RNAO is thrilled Dr. Moore was chosen for this role. RNAO will continue providing our insight into public health guidelines.

We remain committed to speaking out for nurses and speaking out for the health of all Ontarians through the media. In June, our outreach resulted in 138 media hits. To read any of the media stories we were included in, visit our COVID-19 press room located in our COVID-19 portal.