CMA/CNA call for urgent action during emergency COVID-19 summit

Without health workers, there is no health care, say country’s doctors and nurses

With COVID-19 infection rates stabilizing in certain areas of Canada but still out of control in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan, what Canada needs is a “functional national vaccine passport or certificate,” the head of the country’s largest professional medical advocacy group recommended last week following an emergency summit on the Covid crisis.

‘Not complicated,’ said Smart

“You know, we’ve been talking about this for months,” said Dr. Katherine Smart, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Medical Association. “It’s not complicated. It’s unclear why that solution is not yet available for Canadians to make public spaces safer.”

While there is currently no comprehensive and nation-wide vaccine passport program, all provinces and territories, including Quebec, have implemented vaccine passport or proof of vaccination systems on their own. Still, the CMA feels a more concerted effort would produce better results.

“We need to be reactive to situations as they evolve to make sure we’re increasing public health mitigation strategies in certain areas that aren’t doing well,” Dr. Smart said, noting the importance of keeping in place simple practices like masking to prevent Covid from spiralling out of control in some parts of the country.

Trying to see the light

The CMA held the webcast in conjunction with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) to emphasize that health workers across Canada, including Quebec, are now past the point of exhaustion and are in need of seeing some light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel during the COVID-19 crisis.

Canada needs a “functional national vaccine passport or certificate,” Dr. Katherine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said following last week’s emergencyCOVID-19 summit.

As the two groups noted, rising numbers of COVID-19 cases have brought the health system in many regions to a breaking point. Despite encouraging words from government officials, they say vaccination rates are at a standstill and public health measures are being reinstated in some places.

In the meantime, they add, health workers are exhausted and demoralized, with many leaving the front line. At the same time, significant backlogs of surgeries are expected to affect the health system and quality of life of patients for years to come.

Workers at breaking point

“We can no longer ask our health workers to carry the load,” said Dr. Smart, who was joined by CNA president Tim Guest and Dr. Abdo Shabah, the CMA board member for Quebec.

“Throughout the summit we heard common concerns and themes being shared on how to immediately support health workers in this crisis,” said Guest. “It is clear, that we need a multi-pronged intervention, one that addresses the critical short-term challenges and one that also looks at beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

“While improved data collection and national health human resource frameworks are necessary, they do not fix the immediate issues,” he continued. “For our health system to make it through the fourth wave, governments and health organizations need to urgently work together to support our health workers. Without health workers, there is no health care.”

The battle’s not over yet

The summit brought together nearly 40 national and provincial health organizations, and included nurses, physicians, personal support workers, psychologists, educational institutions, and other health organizations.

Amid a growing fourth wave, they found, health care workers are burnt out, demoralized and exhausted as they care for patients. In addition, they noted that many Canadians are waiting for much-needed procedures that have been delayed due to increasing backlogs.

Short and long-term solutions

During the meeting, health care leaders identified both short-term and long-term actions to contain the fourth wave, lead an effective COVID-19 response and ensure Canada’s health system remains sustainable. These included taking decisive and urgent actions to address staff shortages across Canada, examining issues including recruitment, retention, workload and safety, and bringing immediate relief to workers in COVID-19 hot zones.

The suggested actions also included making immediate commitments at all levels of governments — municipal, provincial, territorial and federal — to avoid the collapse of the health systems at all costs. They suggested implementing stronger public health measures and empowering authorities such as school boards to intervene and protect the people they serve, while providing urgent and long-term mental health support for health workers who continue to work in dire conditions to care for patients and keep the health system afloat.

Mandatory vaxing announced

Whether by coincidence or not, the conference was held at exactly the same hour on Oct. 6 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland were addressing Canadians on the COVID-19 situation and announcing the mandatory vaccination program for the federal workforce and federally regulated transportation sectors.

Under the new policy, federal public servants in the Core Public Administration, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, will be required to confirm their vaccination status by Oct. 29. Those who are unwilling to disclose their vaccination status or to be fully vaccinated will be placed on administrative leave without pay as early as Nov. 15.

While there is currently no nation-wide vaccine passport program, all provinces and territories have implemented vaccine passport or proof of vaccination systems

Travellers must also be vaxed

Employers in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors will have until Oct. 30 to establish vaccination policies that ensure employees are vaccinated. Effective Oct. 30, travellers departing from Canadian airports and travellers on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains will be required to be fully vaccinated, with very limited exceptions. The government said it is working with industry and key partners to put a strict vaccine requirement in place for cruise ships before the resumption of the 2022 cruise season.