The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology recently published an interim report evaluating the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report examined several areas, such as the healthcare system, Canada’s ability to manufacture medical equipment, the impact of the pandemic on frontline workers, migrant workers, children and youth, as well as, people living with mental health conditions. Given the tragic events in long term care, the report emphasized the need to increase funding to LTC, considering that Canada spends substantially less of our Gross Domestic Product on LTC than many other countries.
Stockpiling of personal protective equipment (PPE)
The Committee found that the federal National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS) was not well managed during the pandemic, which made it ineffective in meeting needs in an emergency. The federal government was advised to adjust stockpile levels to meet emergency and pandemic needs, and that levels be monitored and adjusted regularly. Perhaps most importantly, the report gives direction for the development of both an emergency preparedness plan that is accompanied with a plan for the distribution of equipment under emergency conditions.
On this topic, the Committee acknowledged the employer’s casual interpretation of certain provincial emergency orders, particularly employers in the health sector.
Canada’s ability to manufacture PPE and related equipment
Canada’s reliance on international producers and distributors of PPE compounded the issue of availability and accessibility of PPE, exposing frontline workers to the virus, and leading to community spreading of the virus. On this topic, the Senate urged the government to develop and enable domestic manufacturing to meet current and future needs.
Canadian Pandemic Influenza Preparedness
It was found that the current plan was developed for an influenza outbreak, leaving Canada unprepared for a non-influenza pandemic. The committee proposed that a separate plan be developed for a non-influenza outbreak, giving specific guidelines that fit the circumstances. Similarly, Public Health Canada guidelines were inadequate for certain employment settings, like healthcare, long term care and home care. For this reason, it was suggested that specific guidelines be issued for those settings to ensure swift compliance.
Role of PSWs
The critical importance of PSWs to the healthcare system became abundantly clear as the pandemic ravaged long term care homes. The committee acknowledged in the report that despite the importance of PSWs, they are neither regulated nor recognized as a profession. The IAMAW has advocated for the regulation of PSWs as a profession, and it is encouraging to see that the Committee’s report makes this recommendation. Additionally, the committee emphasized the need to develop, appropriate national standards in the education and training of PSWs.
Long Term Care Funding
The recommendation for increased funding and more involvement from the federal government came through clearly in the report, echoing calls from various groups to amend the Canada Health Act to ensure the Federal government’s role in this sector. In addition to funding, the committee also urged the government to develop a national human resource strategy for this sector.
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