Supporting First Nation Communities during COVID-19

Our focus on vulnerable populations continues, since COVID-19 always discriminates, targeting the frail, the weak, the poor and the vulnerable. In particular, we should worry about the threat to underserved communities that are more susceptible to COVID-19 impacts on population health and well-being. This is why, today, we spotlight the valuable work of the Chiefs of Ontario in supporting the needs of First Nations persons and communities during this pandemic to prevent and/or delay the spread of COVID-19.

On behalf of RNAO, we tremendously appreciate the work of Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Carmen Jones (Director of Health) and their teams for contributing to the article that follows. RNAO joins in partnership with Ontario Chiefs in urging governments and others to immediately heed their call!

In 2019, the Chiefs of Ontario (Health Sector) signed a partnership agreement with RNAO. Given RNAO’s expertise and resources in evidence-based practice and political advocacy at the provincial and federal government levels during this pandemic, Ontario Regional Chief Archibald reached out to RNAO to seek guidance to prevent the worst case scenario in First Nations communities. RNAO has been honoured to heed the Chief’s call.

The Chiefs of Ontario Secretariat under the guidance of the Ontario Regional Chief is supporting local First Nations communities to ensure their safety and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Chiefs of Ontario wishes to support and/or enhance and learn more about on-going local efforts in First Nations communities related to their pandemic planning preparation  including: prevention, protection, surveillance and care for their community and peoples. The goal of this support is to prevent the COVID-19 virus from entering communities and to mitigate the spread of the virus, through supporting social distancing and other measures, as well as enhanced testing and surveillance. 

The tragedy that has unfolded in clusters of under-serviced communities in Ontario, such as in the Long-Term Care sector, demonstrates that we must be prepared to manage this pandemic.  The Long-Term Care sector has faced challenges due to the nature of the environment with groups of residents in close proximity, lack of adequate preparation in advance of outbreaks, lack of staffing, lack of protective personal equipment and ineffective and limited on-going resources and support. This in turn has led to a high number of residents contracting and succumbing to this virus. Learning from what has transpired in Long-Term Care, we can work together to prevent the worst-case scenario from unfolding in First Nations communities.

Over the last few weeks, COO and RNAO have been collaborating on the creation of a comprehensive COVID-19 pandemic action plan template, based on current and emerging evidence-based research that can be integrated, adopted or used to enhance current pandemic planning by local communities. The action plan outlines five critical processes to be enacted, which include: (1) Pre-outbreak testing and surveillance; (2) Physical distancing for community, self-isolation and cohorting of cases; (3) Robust case and contact tracing; (4) Universal masking and personal protective equipment (PPE) and; (5) Health-human resource surge capacity. COO and RNAO are seeking First Nations community feedback with both those who have created their own pandemic plans, and others who may have not reached this goal yet. 

COO and RNAO are also liaising with organizations such as First Nation, Inuit Health Branch, and the Ministry of Health-Public Health Division amongst others to provide supports to First Nations communities. At this time, COO and RNAO are actively working towards increasing local community education, creating a streamlined process to maximize access to PPE and test kits, advocating for novel technologies to support universal testing in communities and increasing health human resources, in particular deploying and supporting the long term retention of additional Nurse Practitioners and Registered Nurses to local communities through RNAOs VIANurse. RNAO is about to launch a First Nations community section on the RNAO portal, where you can access documents such as the COVID-19 Action plan template for communities as well as other informative and advocacy resources. We at COO and RNAO are here to support First Nations communities, during this pandemic, to get ahead of the curve. Together we can do it!

RNAO: Once again, I can’t express strongly enough the privilege for me and our team of working closely with Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Carmen Jones and everyone else who is laboring so hard to protect First Nation communities against the ravages of COVID-19. The Chiefs of Ontario updates on COVID-19 are here. Here is an article where Chief Archibald raises concerns about the risks for First Nations. Here is another (and another) informing that Six Nations of the Grand River has lost one of its members to COVID-19. In an earlier article, communities expressed concern that lack of priority to their needs opens the door for outbreaks. Indigenous communities, systemic racism and COVID-19 is discussed here. The impact on urban Indigenous population is presented here. The Government of Canada’s page on COVID-19 for Indigenous Communities is here. Steps taken by the Ontario government are described here.

To the federal and provincial governments, our message is simple: Act now – immediately. Don’t tell us any longer, as I’ve heard so many times, that “we are working together and plans are in place.” RNAO demands that our sisters and brothers be given -- immediately --ample PPE supplies, ample testing kits, and sufficient funding to cover for additional RN and NPs. These supports are essential so that we prevent additional outbreaks and tragedy can be averted. Let’s for once, have Canada provide justice to our sisters and brothers, where justice has been forever denied.