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Letter to Minister Elliott regarding COVID-19 response

Dear Minister Elliott,

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has called for decisive action to “flatten the curve” of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak and alter the course of the pandemic in Canada to allow our health system the time and resources to respond. We commend the provincial government for declaring a state of emergency and making funds available to support service providers in responding to the crisis. However, there are critical gaps in Ontario’s response, and we all need to do more.

We urge Ontario’s government to take bold action in responding to this pressing crisis. On behalf of over 100 community-led primary care health organizations serving marginalized communities in Ontario, the Alliance for Healthier Communities urges the province to implement these recommendations to help curb the effects of COVID-19 on our communities:

1. Support community health workers in front facing roles with protective equipment and resources. Community led primary health organizations serve a high proportion of marginalized populations across the province, some of those most vulnerable to COVID-19. It is imperative that these services remain accessible during this critical period. Service providers in these facilities report shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), including surgical and N-95 masks. This jeopardizes their ability to provide care for patients. Already this week, Street Health – a community-based organization providing care to vulnerable populations in downtown Toronto – was forced to close due to a lack of PPE. Community organizations report their supplies will not last until the end of this week. We call on the government to act now to ensure protective equipment is available for all frontline providers in the province. Additionally, recently announced funding to back fill front facing providers (including nurses and peer workers) must be available to these centers as providers of essential services to populations at high risk.

2. Develop a specific COVID-19 strategy for Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities, particularly communities in reserves, rural and remote regions, are faced with harsh COVID-19 impacts due to existing health inequities. Without dedicated support and an inflow of resources, Indigenous populations will be highly impacted by COVID-19. We call on the provincial government to work with Indigenous leaders and prioritize conversations with the federal government to address the housing and water crises on reserve communities that will exacerbate community spread of COVID-19. We cannot delay, the time to act is now. We also urge the MOH to work directly with the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council and front facing Indigenous service providers to develop strategies to meet the needs of Indigenous peoples in their communities. Many First Nations are closing their health services and Indigenous people are turning to AHACs and other Indigenous Primary Health Care Teams for assessments and treatments. We need a coordinated response now.

3. Act decisively and prioritize care for homeless and precariously housed populations. Health providers and advocates have called attention to the high risk conditions facing homeless populations. Crowded shelters place individuals at high risk of contracting communicable diseases. This is critical in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. Homeless people cannot safely practice social distancing in crowded shelters or self-isolate as directed by healthcare practitioners. Ontario’s government must fund and support additional Emergency Shelters throughout this crisis.

4. Implement and support COVID-19 response strategies for social services and overdose prevention facilities. The opioid overdose and drug poisoning crisis continues to impact communities across the province. It is essential that Consumption and Treatment Services remain open and accessible during the COVID-19 crisis and that drop-in shelters continue to provide critical supports for the duration of this crisis. Halting overdoses and preventing fatalities requires close contact, and can’t be done without adequate protective gear. Service providers in these facilities must be supported with adequate resources and protective equipment. Multiple facilities are already reporting critical shortages in equipment right now.

5. Ensure everyone who needs health care can get it. To effectively flatten the pandemic’s curve in Ontario, all populations at risk must be able to access care without barriers linked to immigration or insured status. The Government of Ontario must act decisively now to provide guidance to service providers ensuring that care is widely accessible to populations across the province, including non-insured patients at high risk, such as temporary workers and international students. Patients exhibiting symptoms must be able to seek care and take steps to further prevent community spread without fear of being turned away from care facilities due to lack of insurance or requirements to pay for health care. We call of the provincial government to make it transparent that all people in need must and will be treated to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on everyone.

We’re encouraged to see governments beginning to step up their responses by supporting health providers and people to get the care they need and the supports necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 infection. But we can’t stop here. It’s time to continue to be bold, to take decisive action to save lives, and stand behind our front-line community health providers. All of Ontario is counting on your leadership. We look forward to working together side by side to see Ontario through this crisis.

Sincerely,

Adrianna Tetley
CEO, Alliance for Healthier Communities

Tuesday, March 17, 2020