In the early days of Ontario’s battle with COVID-19, before the province had even declared a state of emergency, Doris Grinspun knew the outbreak could cause nursing shortages.
Health-care workers are at high risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, and in hard-hit countries like Italy, shortages of doctors and nurses worsened the emergency. So the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), of which Grinspun is the CEO, put out a call in mid-March to the nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students it represents: Come to the front lines. We need you.
“This was never intended to be a secret. Quite the opposite,” Grinspun said, adding that the Ontario government knew from the beginning that the RNAO was assembling resources.
In the weeks that followed, the RNAO gathered a list of thousands of nurses willing to help, including about 200 who were ready and able to work in nursing homes where the virus has spread like wildfire. But the Ontario government waited weeks before asking to use those resources, and days later, Premier Doug Ford sought help from the Canadian Armed Forces.
The call for military assistance was “confusing,” Grinspun said, as the province already had more than enough nurses ready to go.
“I think there are disconnects. It’s concerning,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
“The government could have used (RNAO nurses) way, way more aggressively weeks ago. Maybe we would have avoided the army.”
In an emailed statement, Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, did not dispute Grinspun’s statements. Chazan also did not answer direct questions about why it was necessary to call in the military, given the nursing resources that were already available.
“We continue to hold regular conversations with the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario about how retired nurses can help assist us in our efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the statement read. “We thank them for their willingness to help during this difficult time.”