As a new surge of COVID-19 takes hold, nurses are shouldering professional and personal burdens like never before.
“My heart breaks at work, my heart breaks when I get home,” said Birgit Umaigba, an ICU nurse based in Toronto.
Heartbreaking images are repeated one shift after another, while families remain on the outside.
“Last week I was literally rubbing my patient’s head and letting her know that [her] daughter says she loves her,” Umaigba said.
Ontario continues to see daily COVID-19 case numbers near the 4,000 mark. Hospitals are doing what they can to manage and treat incoming patients. That now includes putting new measures in place temporarily allowing nurses to provide care outside their “regular scope of practice.”
A New Order, issued to Ontario hospitals, civil servants and unions last week under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, and referenced in a memo from the College of Nurses of Ontario, outlined the measure.
It goes to say hospitals will have the ability to “employ, contract, appoint or otherwise engage regulated health professionals from out of province.”
This provision only applies to nurses working in hospitals and only to “prevent or alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
A spokesperson for the province said the goal for these measures is simple: help reduce administrative burdens and allow hospitals the ability to focus on delivering patient care, while at the same time building up the province’s health care workforce.
The province says workers won’t be asked to perform tasks they aren’t qualified for, but some experts say there are still concerns.
“If in the rush of doing things [a nurse might] do things that she or he is not competent to do, that nurse could be reported to the college of nurses,” said Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Health Minister Christine Elliott says more than 40 healthcare workers from outside Ontario have already volunteered, and more could be on the way, arriving as early as this week.
Some critics remain skeptical.
“[Registered nurses] with ICU training or critical care training that will come from other jurisdictions in our view will be minimal,” said Grinspun.
Hospital physicians worry the quality of care is at risk.
Dr. Steve Flindall works in emergency rooms across the GTA and knows the value of a good nursing team, armed with the necessary training that can be leveraged in these difficult times.
“You know, I’d like to say no, patient care won’t be affected,” Flindall said, “but it’s hard to imagine it won’t be.”