Ontarians know that they can count on the commitment of the province’s health care workers to provide the best and safest care possible under challenging conditions, including under the current COVID-19 outbreak. This is why nurses and other front line health care workers are calling on the Ontario Government to ensure health care staff and their patients are kept safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, say the unions that represent more than 250,000 health care sector workers in Ontario.

Patient care is the priority, but the unions say, health care staff can only do that if they themselves stay healthy in order to continue to provide high quality care. Front line members are telling their respective unions that personal protective equipment supplies are not readily available in some workplaces. It is imperative that front line health care staff have complete confidence in their own safety and access to full protective equipment and training, in order to do the best for patients.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak spread to Ontario, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) have been urging the government and health care workplaces that all precautions must be followed, and protocols for personal protective equipment for registered nurses and health care workers must be implemented. Staff must be fully trained, equipped and supported.

Following a leaked document that showed the government is watering down guidelines regarding the appropriate level of personal protective equipment for front line health care workers, the union leaders released a joint statement yesterday (https://www.ona.org/news-posts/20200311-covid19-joint-statement/). The unions say they are deeply concerned about the lax guidelines issued, and scarce availability and appropriateness of personal protective equipment (PPE) for protection during the pandemic.

Many Ontario health care staff have lived through SARS and learned many lessons about infection control and best practices, and they have solutions and want collaboration and frankness with government during this difficult period, say the unions.