Insights May 2022

Nurses: We Answer the Call

Kamal Khera

Minister Kamal Khera 

During National Nursing Week 2022, I cannot help but reflect on the journey of the pandemic – where we started, where we stand at present, how far we have come and where we go from here.

As a registered nurse, as well as someone who contracted COVID-19 early in the first wave, I have had a unique front-row seat to this pandemic, and I will carry that experience with me forever. It has helped shape my first days as minister of seniors and continues to inform me in my role representing and supporting seniors in Canada. 

Seniors, in particular, were hit hard by the global pandemic because they are more vulnerable to the health impacts of COVID-19. In addition, more seniors live alone or in long-term care homes and were at greater risk of social isolation. During my work throughout the pandemic, I saw with my own eyes the tireless work that those on the front lines put in day and night. 

Thinking back to March of 2020, I vividly remember the many conversations I had with distraught constituents as the prime minister declared a pandemic. The anxiety surrounding the unknown health impacts, the worry of navigating how businesses would survive a lockdown, or helping families repatriate loved ones caught abroad – in my seven years as a member of Parliament, never was there a time my constituents needed their government more.

I knew I had to do more. When I learned that the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario was imploring retired and non-practising nurses to step forward to ease shortages in my community, I immediately signed up. After recovering from the virus myself, I was able to serve in a local long-term care home that was one of the hardest hit in Ontario. In my time as a nurse and a member of Parliament, I have been exposed to a lot; yet I was still not prepared for what I witnessed and experienced in that residence.

I arrived in an environment where multiple residents, nurses and staff had tested positive, leaving only a handful of nurses working desperately to offer care to both the sick and the healthy. One nurse, Heather, actually chose to live in the residence so that she could provide round-the-clock support – a level of altruism I will never forget. It was harrowing, emotional and exhausting. 

I carry those experiences with me every day in my role as minister of seniors. The pandemic has affected us all, but it has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, especially seniors. That is why one of my most important tasks is to do my part in helping improve care for seniors across the country. 

Seniors are the fastest growing demographic group in Canada. They deserve to live and age in dignity. The work that nurses do in supporting seniors and their families – as well as contributing to the delivery of home, palliative and community care – is vital to improving the well-being and quality of life of older Canadians. 

And it comes full circle. In recent months, I have had the opportunity of administering second booster doses to seniors at the same long-term care home where I first started at the beginning of the pandemic. What made it that much more special was to know how much the vaccine has helped ease social isolation among seniors while the nurses continued their work with the same level of compassion as they did on day one.

From the beginning, nurses have shown up to do everything in their capacity to save lives and to keep the broader community safe, from leaving their families for months and working endless shifts to risking illness and death. Nurses answered the call even at great personal risk.

This week, as we celebrate National Nursing Week, we have an opportunity to honour the extraordinary people who have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic non-stop for over two years. As a country, we have come a long way and there is light at the end of this long tunnel because nurses were on the front lines. 

Canadians are eagerly getting back to some degree of normalcy, but we are not out of the woods yet. After two years of living through a global crisis with very real local impacts, we need to stay the course just a little while longer to protect the health and well-being of the most vulnerable among us, and to ensure that our hard work does not go to waste. Our front-line heroes have put it all on the line to protect us.

Nurses are the pillars of our healthcare system. We owe them a profound debt of gratitude and the best way to thank them is to answer our call to action by getting fully vaccinated.

About the Author

Kamal Khera is a registered nurse and the federal minister of seniors.

 


Comments

Lorraine Bayliss wrote:

Posted 2022/05/17 at 11:36 AM EDT

I was admitted to hospital during the pandemic. I underwent a successful heart valve transplant and was awake during surgery (TAVI) and monitoring my diabetes levels (type1 for 50 years.) I was in the hospital when the nurses received the news that their wages were to be cut. Many chose to leave the profession. At the same time the provincial government in Ontario raised the wages of ambulance drivers and fire fighters. One senior nurse administrator had a brother with COVID-19 who was put in a facility and the family did not know where to locate him. When, after time they did learn his location, they waved to him through a window. His recovery improved and he eventually came home. Please bring compassion to those who truly serve and play an invaluable role in health care. Too many nurses never received the appreciation and yes appropriate income that reflected the challenges they faced. They deserved so much more from the government.

 

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