Thousands of nurses answer call to help with coronavirus pandemic: ‘This is the way we are’

Click to play video: 'Ontario nurses on preparedness for handling coronavirus'
Ontario nurses on preparedness for handling coronavirus
Doris Grinspun from the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario explains what hospitals and nurses are doing to prepare for the spread of COVID-19. – Mar 16, 2020

Thousands of nurses in Ontario and across Canada say they’re ready to take on extra work to help with the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario said it reached out to the province’s nurses last Thursday evening, asking them to indicate whether they might be available to help with Telehealth and other remote diagnosis.

By Friday, it had received thousands of responses, said Doris Grinspun, CEO of the RNAO. By the end of the day Monday, she said, there were more than 3,300 people indicating they were willing to take on this work. Some are retired, some have other jobs, but all want to help when they can, she said.

Grinspun says she’s inspired by the response, but not surprised.

“Our nursing tribe, this is the way we are,” she said.

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Among them is Nanda Bradshaw, an Ottawa nurse who normally works on a patient support line for a medication. She’s added this shift on top of her regular full-time job.

“The need is there,” she said. “As long as I’m healthy and able to offer it, I will do it.”

The need is big. According to Esther Moghadam, chief nursing officer and director of health promotion at Ottawa Public Health, when her organization decided to reach out for extra help on Friday, there were 1,800 voicemails and hundreds of people waiting on the phone.

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In three days, she said, Ottawa Public Health had hired 59 nurses to help and given them intensive training to get them on the phone as soon as possible.

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“What’s incredible is these are all very skilled nurse practitioners and registered nurses from across the health-care sector who want to contribute,” Moghadam said.

“They have families, they have full-time jobs, and they’re highly skilled. Their wanting to come in and support us and assist us is nothing short of absolutely fantastic.”

While Ottawa Public Health is trying to direct people to its online assessment tools, the phone can be an important support for many in the community, Bradshaw said.

Her job is “reassuring people, assessing the need for testing,” she said.

“A lot of people want testing, but they don’t fit criteria. So it’s more of a reassurance to talk to someone, to have a little bit of comfort in that situation.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau discusses state of emergency in Ontario, thanks frontline healthcare workers

But while Ottawa Public Health has quickly taken on extra staff to deal with its phone lines, the RNAO says it hasn’t heard yet from Telehealth Ontario, despite complaints of long waits.

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“We now have over 3,000 ready to go at any time. In fact, they’re saying, ‘Why aren’t they calling me?'” Grinspun said.

Nurses in Quebec have also come out to support the COVID-19 effort, prompting Premier François Legault to express his gratitude. He said he was “proud to be a Quebecer” and that by Tuesday, 10,000 people had sent in their resumes.

Further west, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia emailed hundreds of physicians who had left the job within the last two years asking them to renew their licences. Regional authorities are still processing the requests, a spokesman said Monday.

Hearing a nurse on the other line helps to reassure worried callers, Bradshaw said.

“I think it’s just being able to offer a sense of calmness in this really turbulent time for everyone.”

— with files from the Canadian Press

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