Ontario’s auditor general says delays and confusion stymied pandemic response
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) has backed a report from the province’s auditor that accused the government Premier Doug Ford of “delays and confusion in decision-making” in its response to the pandemic.
In a scathing report, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk found a “number of contributing factors leading to this slower pandemic response, including outdated provincial emergency plans, insufficient staff and significant changeover in leadership at Ontario’s Provincial Emergency Management Office (EMO), as well as systemic issues such as the lack of lab surge capacity and outdated IT systems.”
Lysyk said that much of this was avoidable as Ontario “failed to act on key lessons identified after the 2003 SARS outbreak that had not been implemented.”
Vicki McKenna, president of ONA, agreed with Lysyk, saying that the report is “perceptive and on-target.”
“As the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses (RNs) and health-care professionals, ONA has tried to provide our expertise and experience to decision makers before, during and throughout the pandemic with varying degrees of success,” said McKenna. “ONA has made every effort to ensure Ontario avoided repeating the mistakes of SARS. Unfortunately, much of our advice has not been acted on – and when it was, it was not acted on quickly enough.”
McKenna added that one of the most alarming errors during COVID-19 has been the refusal to acknowledge the possibility of airborne transmission of the coronavirus.
“We have seen history repeat itself during the pandemic," she said. "Infectious disease experts released advice that did not follow the precautionary principle – to err on the side of caution until the science becomes clear – and our patients, long-term care residents and Ontario RNs and health-care workers have paid the ultimate price for that. Government did not heed the lessons from SARS, and we find ourselves today in a serious second wave of the pandemic and with thousands infected. Cuts to public health units also contributed to challenges in slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
“ONA is calling for the excellent recommendations in the auditor-general's report to be acted on immediately,” said McKenna. “We need our public health officials to have the ability to do what they do best – keep Ontarians safe – without political interference.”