A retired nurse is speaking out after being told her efforts to help relieve some of the pressure on Ontario’s health-care system amid the COVID Omicron surge, are being held up because the Ministry of Health hasn’t issued the correct emergency order.
On Dec. 22, the Ford government requested retired health-care workers return to the workforce to help the province ramp up its booster dose rollout.
“The Ontario government is making regulatory amendments to allow more individuals to safely administer the COVID-19 vaccine, such as retired nurses and physicians, paramedics, dentists, and firefighters,” said a government release.
That request sparked the interest of Joanne Callaghan, a former registered nurse who retired in July of 2020. Before she stepped away from her four-decade-long career of emergency and critical care nursing, Callaghan was working as a manager of patient care and Lakeridge Health in Oshawa.
“I tried to adjust to retirement, but having this in the background and knowing what all of my peers are going through, I really feel I need to step up and get in there to help,” said Callaghan.
Thinking her return to a vaccination clinic could free up a nurse’s return to the overwhelmed hospital system, Callaghan got in touch with the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) to get reinstated.
“I would have assumed that within days I would have been reissued my license and been able to help,” she said. Instead, she was told it would likely take four to six weeks, just to find out if she qualified. “It almost seems like living in parallel universes, that there’s this crisis going on and the College seems deaf and blind to it,” Callaghan said.
In an interview with Global News, CNO spokesperson Bradley Hammond said the issue is out of the College’s hands, as it acts in a registrar capacity only. To expedite the registration process, the Ministry of Health would need to issue an Emergency Assignment Order.
Hammond said the province has issued these orders twice during the pandemic, but they only last 60 days. The most recent order expired and despite the Ford government’s urgent call for retired health-care workers, a new order hasn’t been issued.
“Our purpose is the promotion of safe nursing practice and pubic protections,” Hammond said, “so it’s not necessarily in our mandate or our role to give advice to the province about what orders or what regulations to enact at any time.”
Without a directive from the Ministry of Health, Hammond said the CNO can’t correct the issue.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott declined an interview with Global News to explain why the emergency order wasn’t renewed and her ministry didn’t provide further details by publishing deadline.
The president of the Ontario Nurses Association, Cathryn Hoy, said she was shocked to learn there wasn’t an emergency order in place. “I couldn’t believe the time and the amount of hoops had to jump through,” Hoy said after looking up the process on the CNO website.
The numbers of patients seeking treatment due to COVID have strained an already limited field of nurses, said Hoy.
“So why isn’t the government bending over backwards and helping?” Hoy asked, pointing out there are other efforts that could also assist overburdened health-care workers, like the Late Career Initiative Program.
The NDP’s leader Andrea Horwath said the government has dropped the ball by not ensuring the emergency order had been renewed before issuing its press release.
“Nurses want to help, obviously this nurse wanted to help,” said Horwath. “The very least we should do is make the pathway to that offer a very smooth one and one that’s quick.”
Joanne Callaghan learned the cost of getting reinstated as a nurse, would be close to $500. The fee doesn’t concern her as much as the hassle. While she remains committed to getting the issue sorted out so she can lend a hand, she worries other retired health-care workers will get fed-up with the process.
Meanwhile, it’s the front-line workers who she wants to help, that she worries about most. “I’m still in touch with a lot of my nursing colleagues,” said Callaghan “and it breaks my heart what they’re going through.”
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