(Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)
As more than 500 first responders across the province are sidelined due to COVID-19-related isolation, the call for more workers is being answered by retirees and injured workers looking to help where they can.
According to numbers released by the Department of Health, 512 health-care workers are in isolation as of Monday, including more than 400 in the Eastern Health region. Jerry Earle, president of NAPE — the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees — which represents many first responders, said union members are in isolation for different reasons including direct contact or being a close contact of the virus.
"We're having people in retirement, injured workers actually reaching out saying, 'If you need me to do something, let me know," he said. "Workers are really going above and beyond."
Because of the province's move to Alert Level 5, health-care services have been scaled back to emergency care only. While Earle acknowledges some services have been downgraded, he said it's one of the best ways to keep front-line workers safe.
"Where they're starting to downgrade the amount of service that we deliver in health care, that will actually assist," Earle said Monday. "If we were at full operation, we would have significant consequences."
"Knowing there was a shortage before we went into this pandemic, with those in isolation now certainly has us concerned," he added. "But … health-care workers have been stepping up."
Earle said his members are rightfully concerned over transmission of the virus, but a collaborative approach between NAPE, the province's health authorities, other unions and the provincial government has made updates and changes go more smoothly.
"Those conversations have been open and transparent, and I want to applaud them for those efforts."
Nurses' union facing child-care concerns
Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses' Union NL, said it is unclear how many nurses or nurse practitioners are in isolation due to COVID-19. While reducing health-care services has been helpful, she said, the need for more workers has been highlighted as retirees re-enter the field to help with COVID-19 testing.
"We've been speaking out over the past few weeks about the shortage of registered nurses in the system," Coffey said. "We have been advocating for the government and the regional health authorities to reduce services so that we can prepare for what we know to be inevitable, and that is admissions."
On top of the stress that comes with working in a pandemic, Coffey said she has heard from nurses within the union who are now facing a different kind of challenge — child care.
"We have school-age children … who cannot avail of child-care services at the moment in daycares because the daycares are only mandated to care for people who are currently on their roster," she said. "So we're left with a bit of dilemma now.
"Some are off isolating, and others are off because they don't have child care for their children."
Outside the medical field, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary told CBC News the number of workers in isolation will not be disclosed, and that operations are being maintained with a focus on community safety. Sgt
Sgt. Mike Summers, president of the RNC Association, which represents more than 300 workers, said he has the "utmost" faith in police officers to "provide that high level of protection for the citizens."
The St. John's Regional Fire Department also would not confirm the number of workers in isolation, but sources confirmed some firefighters are not able to report for duty. Fire Chief Sherry Colford said she was unavailable for a on-camera interview but told CBC News that operations are continuing normally.