KAWARTHA LAKES-The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), the union representing 68,000 front-line registered nurses (RNs) and health-care providers, says it is ‘unsurprised’ by revelations in the auditor general’s report that confirm the province discarded a stockpiled supply of N95 respirators and failed to replenish it.
“ONA has seen where the priorities of this government lie throughout the pandemic,” says ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN. “We were alarmed in January of 2020 when our warnings to the Ford government to put protocols in place in all health-care sectors for a pandemic got no reaction – or action,” says ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN. “We were suspicious that N95 respirators seemed to be in short supply and were not forthcoming, despite the premier’s assurance that Ontario had an adequate supply. This report simply confirms our suspicions – and it is inexcusable that our front-line RNs and health-care professionals have suffered because of it.”
Ontario’s auditor general released an annual report of value-for-money audits on Wednesday.
The audit found that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Ontario was unprepared to respond with sufficient PPE as a result of long-standing issues identified but not addressed by the Ministry of Health according to the auditor general.
“The Ministry had not maintained a sufficient centralized emergency PPE stockpile, leaving the province with minimal usable PPE inventory to distribute in a time of acute need—the Ministry received over 1,600 requests for PPE between February 5 and March 18, 2020. At the time, Canada did not manufacture significant amounts of PPE. Ontario imported most key items of PPE.” said the report.
McKenna says it is both deeply disheartening and infuriating to hear.
“The auditor general has said aloud what we have alleged for almost two years – that our members have been put at risk by the failures of government and employers. The utter failure to learn from the lives lost during the SARS pandemic and disregard for the safety of those who have been on the front lines for their patients has contributed to the current nursing shortage in this province – as our members have been sickened, and some have died, others have left the profession forever. The fact that this government gave unqualifying businesses $210 million in COVID relief funds as our RNs and health-care providers were unprotected and sickened shows where the Ford government’s priorities lie.”
The audit also found that healthcare workers were not always properly protected with PPE. According to the report, orders for PPE violations issued by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to health-care providers (including long-term-care homes and hospitals) increased tenfold, with 229 orders issued in 2020 compared to 22 in 2019.
“Violations resulted from insufficient training of employees by employers on how to properly wear, use and store PPE during work breaks, and employees’ lack of access to appropriate PPE when required.” stated the report.
McKenna also expressed concern about the lack of provincial oversight and lack of reviews of funding for some surgeries, and the unused or underused capacity for different types of outpatient surgery.
“This report shows that the Ford government has prioritized business over the health and well-being of Ontarians and those who care for them” says McKenna. “Health care and the economy should not have to compete but should and can work together; both are vital to Ontarians.”
“We hope every resident of this province thinks hard about their own priorities for government as the June election approaches.”