TORONTO, May 5, 2020 /CNW/ - Recognizing that the Ontario Nurses' Association's (ONA) had raised legitimate concerns about access to proper protective equipment (PPE) and infection control practices at dozens of long-term care homes, Arbitrator John Stout has released a grievance arbitration decision that provides clear direction on these practices.
ONA has been filing grievances at a majority of long-term care homes where it represents nurses, on a range of issues including the availability and access to proper protective equipment (PPE), training, enforcing physical distancing rules, isolating residents, and ensuring cohorting of COVID-19-positive and negative residents. It also addresses short-staffing issues and staff working while ill.
"I am very pleased that the decision shows the way forward for ONA members working on the front lines of long-term care," says ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN. "Long-term care nurses and health-care professionals have been trying desperately to stem the spread of COVID-19, and this decision obliges employers to work co-operatively with ONA to achieve that goal."
In his decision, Arbitrator Stout draws parallels between the post-SARS Commission Report, 'Spring of Fear' and the current COVID-19 pandemic. In both the SARS outbreak and current COVID-19 pandemic, he writes, the province was "unprepared." He also notes that it is clear that the "precautionary principle must be used" when the science is unclear. ONA believes that N95 masks, or equivalent or better, offer the level of protection needed for workers in many circumstances related to this pandemic. The arbitrator points to the fact that some 1,594 health-care workers in long-term care have become infected with COVID-19, and that three personal support workers in this sector have died to date.
Long-term care homes must now follow the Chief Medical Officer of Health's directives, the ONA collective agreement, and Occupational Health & Safety laws regarding nurses' access to PPE, communication, testing, cleaning, staffing, cohorting of residents and self-isolation, and the arbitrator's decision.
The decision also quotes Winston Churchill, saying that "never was so much owed by so many to so few," and acknowledges the sacrifices being made by mostly diverse female health-care workers in long-term care. McKenna says that she hopes the decision "provides clarity for the operators of long-term care homes and that residents – and those who care for them – will at last be safer. It is long past the time to douse the wildfire of the spread of COVID-19 in these homes."
ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as more than 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.
SOURCE Ontario Nurses' Association
For further information: Sheree Bond, (416) 986-8240; [email protected]