Four things Canada needs to do NOW to support frontline health care workers and save lives
It’s becoming increasingly clear that what is happening in Italy is going to happen here in Canada. Sadly, our national, provincial and local efforts to stop the coronavirus have fallen short. Our system isn’t built to rapidly respond to this virus, which is proving to be far more dangerous and far more infectious than we all originally hoped. But the time for hoping is over.
Canada is about to be hit by a tidal wave of severe respiratory illness caused by COVID-19. This will overwhelm our traditional systems. Everyone in health care and government is singularly focused on preventing disaster, but our habits, our processes, and our institutions are not used to making the bold choices needed in this ambiguous and rapidly evolving emergency.
To date, the health care landscape has been plagued by indecision, wavering policies, and poor coordination. Now is not the time for consultations with stakeholders, circulating drafts and memos, or writing policies. Now is the time for clear, decisive leaders to bark orders. Urgent action is better than delayed action. Canada’s frontline healthcare workers are at war, and we need a General.
Justin Trudeau must step up and do these four things today, or Canadians will needlessly die. Tomorrow is not good enough.
1 – We need personal protective equipment (PPE) and mechanical ventilators.
At my hospital, we are running out of masks. We have already run out of face shields. We cannot fight a war without armour. In China alone, over 3,300 healthcare workers have fallen ill of COVID-19; doctors and nurses have died. Without the essential equipment to protect ourselves, we will not only become ill, but get wiped off the board, unable to man emergency rooms and intensive care units. The provision of adequate personal protective equipment must be the number one priority.
Based on the experiences of China and Italy, Canada is estimated to need 500,000 mechanical ventilators to help patients whose lungs have been disabled by the coronavirus. We currently have one per cent of that, at best. We must rapidly produce innovative machines that can keep oxygen flowing in and out of people while their lungs recover from the virus.
Justin Trudeau must implement the Emergencies Act and force companies with the capacity and ability to mass-produce PPE and ventilators to do so. Now.
2 – We need soldiers at every hospital.
Canada’s hospitals are not ready for this. We don’t have enough staff, we don’t have enough space, and we don’t have enough supplies. Militaries have the expertise and experience to rapidly deploy, set up shop, and build capacity. This skillset is needed now. We can’t leave it up to hospitals to be calling party shops and wedding planners to get tents, or third party security companies to supply undertrained and under-equipped guards. Our Italian colleagues have been loud and clear: it doesn’t ramp up, it hits you like a tonne of bricks. We are in the calm before the storm. This is our chance to act; there isn’t much time.
Justin Trudeau must deploy the Canadian Forces to every hospital. Now.
3 – We need regulatory flexibility.
Our current systems of governance aren’t brave enough to react to this pandemic. Doug Ford has led the way, using emergency powers to authorize hospitals to violate collective agreements to put staff where they are needed most. Others must follow his lead; federal regulators must assure engineers and companies working to innovate low-cost, easy-to-build ventilators that they will be allowed to provide them to hospitals. They won’t look pretty, but they are better than nothing.
Also, 2,000 specialist doctors scheduled to start as independent physicians on July 1 have had their exams cancelled by the 100-year-old Royal College, which is incapable of grappling with the seriousness of the moment. Their exams, a historical exercise of pride, not necessity, have astoundingly high pass rates. These 2,000 doctors are ready to practice. More than 2,000 current members of the Royal College have signed a petition to grant them certification in these exceptional times. Further, another 2,000 family medicine resident doctors are standing by to hit the front lines – they too must be certified by the College of Family Practitioners of Canada.
Trudeau must exercise his authority to override paralyzed regulators so that doctors, engineers, and manufacturers can get to work.
4 – We need every Canadian to stay indoors.
Asking nicely has worked to an extent, but on my drive to work, I still see children in parks and people chatting in coffee shops. The guidance of public health officials must become directives. Enforcement must be the norm, not the exception. This virus depends on our delinquency; if we all stay six feet apart, we can mitigate the damage. We can save lives.
Trudeau must clamp down on social distancing. It’s not a responsibility; it’s a requirement.
Healthcare workers are ready to fight the coronavirus. But in order to win, we need Justin Trudeau to step up and use his power to take unprecedented action; the lives of Canadians depends on him, and us, to act decisively. Now.