January 6, 2022 (OTTAWA, ON) – As Ministers of health meet tonight to discuss the most recent upheaval caused by COVID-19, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions is again imploring governments to provide the most basic protections for frontline health care workers.
At a time when we cannot afford to lose a single health care worker, the very people on the frontlines of this pandemic are still facing barriers to obtaining proper PPE, getting booster shots and being guaranteed sick leave when they test positive. Meanwhile, a longstanding nursing shortage – a product of decades of government neglect – has repeatedly left our health care system teetering on the edge of collapse.
Governments simply cannot wait for the pandemic to ebb to tackle these issues.
With the proper PPE, health care workers can stay safe while caring for patients. But almost two years into this pandemic, health care workers aren’t always provided a fit-tested N95 respirator – this, despite a clear scientific consensus that COVID-19 is airborne and that the Omicron variant is exponentially more transmissible than its predecessors.
“It’s maddening that we are still fighting for N95s at this stage of the pandemic,” said CFNU President Linda Silas. “Nurses are still going into work not knowing whether they’ll be denied the PPE they need to stay safe – the PPE they need to keep their patients safe.”
“Premiers have shown that they can move mountains to protect the public, but this kind of decisive action has been sorely missing when it comes to protecting health care workers – the very backbone of our health care system.”
Without N95s, nurses are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Losing a nurse – whether for a week due to COVID or months due to long-haul symptoms – is disastrous given the existing pressures on our health care system stemming from the nursing shortage.
Likewise, booster shots offer a vital layer of protection. Since vaccine efficacy wanes over time, we must urgently get boosters into the arms of health care workers. Many months ago, CFNU called on the government to prioritize health care workers, many of whom received their second dose almost a year ago. And yet, some governments are failing to fast-track health care workers and facilitate their access to a third dose.
The CFNU is also alarmed to hear that many jurisdictions are considering allowing health care workers with mild symptoms, or those still testing positive, to return to work before they are well. This has the potential to create further hospital-wide outbreaks, putting colleagues, vulnerable patients and our health care system at risk.
“We must stop normalizing needlessly putting health care workers at risk,” concluded Silas. “Nurses don’t come to work to be martyrs; they come to work to care for patients. Governments can and must provide them with the tools and equipment they need to care for patients while also caring for themselves.”
“We can’t wait for the pandemic to be over to take action. Nurses are tired of being treated as expendable – and this can only worsen an already debilitating nursing shortage.”
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The CFNU is Canada’s largest nurses’ organization, representing nearly 200,000 nurses and student nurses, and advocating on key health priorities.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Ben René, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-406-5962