Marking the Year of the Nurse, the Waterloo Region’s registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students had the opportunity to engage virtually with Morgan Hoffarth, president of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario on Tuesday, sharing perspectives on what they consider to be the key health, health-care and nursing issues front and centre during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Michelle Heyer is the communications executive network officer for RNAO’s Waterloo Chapter, and a registered nurse at Conestoga College. Speaking to the challenges faced by our region’s nurses throughout the pandemic, Heyer said one of the key issues to be discussed at the virtual meeting was the advocacy for the implementation of the RNAO Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee and its use to establish national care standards in nursing homes. With almost eighty-thousand seniors calling long term care home in Ontario, Heyer said more than two thousand have died from COVID-19 this year.
“This guarantee calls for a staffing formula that provides no less than four hours of direct nursing and personal care per resident per day, and a proper skill mix including registered practical nurses, PSWs and nurse-practitioners in all long-term care homes.”
Heyer said that local nurses have continued to work tirelessly to support the health and care of Ontario, with many witnessing losses of life due to weaknesses in the current health system. The registered nurse said that the public needs to continue to stand behind nurses in supporting them through the fight against COVID-19 by staying safe at home, wearing a mask and following the guidelines issued by public health. Speaking to continued misinformation and willful avoidance of those measures, Heyer said that sort of behaviour continues to be frustrating for frontline workers.
“I really would urge everyone in Waterloo Region to ensure they’re receiving their information from a reliable source – whether that’s a website, their doctor or healthcare provider… that’s a great opportunity to look into an organization like the RNAO to ensure the information they’re receiving is accurate.”
Heyer also said another key concern for nurses heading into the virtual conference is the ongoing impact of the opioid epidemic – adding that for some, the crisis may have taken a backseat in the wake of the pandemic. She said that nurses have long been advocating for changes to reduce harm and provide supervised consumption sites in all communities across the province, and that those services and the naloxone they provide save lives. Heyer said that nurses will continue to advocate for an evidence-informed drug policy at all levels of government to reduce health and social harm, and to ensure those that use drugs can stay safe.
When asked how the profession has changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Heyer said that many nurses experienced a degree of uncertainty and fear of the unknown in the earlier days of the pandemic, lacking some of the key information in how to properly combat the virus.
“Over the summer we started to work differently… we started to have different experiences socially as well – and as we move into this second wave, I think the struggle is now… when we’re hearing Ontarians are not physically distancing and not wearing a mask… that’s really a challenge for our nurses when they’re out there.”
With COVID-19 rates continuing to climb at an alarming rate in the region, Heyer said that those numbers will continue to rise until we see a change in behaviour from residents in Waterloo Region – again stressing the importance of wearing a mask, avoiding irresponsible social situations and maintaining physical distancing.