As this global pandemic has continued to take its toll on communities across the world, I know the past several months have been an extremely challenging time for nurses across Ontario. Its impact has been felt both professionally and personally. For some that has meant working long hours or adjusting to new or different work environments. For others it has meant the loss of income after being limited to one workplace or losing a job altogether. And for any health professional who has contracted the illness, a whole other level of stress has emerged. Outside of work, it’s affected families and relationships: whether it’s trying to balance child care,or caring for a family member, all the while thinking about how to keep your loved ones safe. But through it all, nurses have continued to show up every day to deliver the care that patients, residents, and clients need, and I want you to know we’re extremely grateful.
As your professional association, we’ve been committed to standing alongside you as this pandemic has unfolded. Through our regular newsletters, we’ve made sure that RPNs can stay informed and get the latest information and guidance from the government and Chief Medical Officer of Health. We’ve made it a priority to connect and engage with you through our professional practice outreach, our Facebook Live sessions, and other social media channels so we can bring your voice and experiences from the frontlines to the attention of government. We have never stopped advocating on your behalf. From the beginning of this crisis, we pushed for more personal protective equipment and better data, supported calls for pandemic pay, urged the government to prioritize vulnerable sectors, and encouraged enhanced testing. As we look back at Ontario’s response to this first wave, I think there are several lessons we can learn that will help us prepare for the expected second wave.
Ensure there is broad and equitable protection for patients, residents, clients, and all care providers across the health system.
Our initial response prioritized preparing our acute care sector for a surge of patients but fell short of protecting some of our most vulnerable communities, such as the elderly and people with existing health conditions. As we move into the fall and prepare for a second wave of COVID-19, coupled with the flu season, we need to make sure that all sectors are equitably supported and resourced.
Build support for nurses who have the courage to blow the whistle.
We have heard horror stories of nurses who raised the alarm about concerning infection control practices and faced professional reprimand for speaking out. Nurses need to be empowered to use their clinical knowledge and judgement to support patient, resident, and client care. We will be advocating to ensure that nurses have avenues to bring forward their concerns because this can save lives.
Create a steady supply of equipment.
Several months ago, nurses faced tremendous stress as a result of shortages of critical PPE. Now that government has had the chance to create new, local supply chains for essential equipment, we need to make sure those continue to be provided to health care providers on a priority basis.
Increase access to mental health and self-care supports that nurses and health professionals need.
Nursing is a stressful profession at the best of times. According to a national survey conducted in 2019 by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, nurses were experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and moral distress long before COVID-19. The past few months have only compounded those pressures. If nurses are to be expected to continue to provide the essential care that Ontarians need, we have to make sure they have the right support systems in place to care for themselves first.
We still have a long road ahead of us as we collectively fight this pandemic, but I have the utmost confidence in the incredible work that RPNs are doing to keep the rest of us safe. I know that it’s been a very difficult time for all of Ontario’s nurses but I want you to know that we appreciate your ongoing commitment. And you can be sure that we will be there to support you every step of the way.
Dianne Martin, RPN, RN