Three doctors and four nurses from Canada's easternmost province are on their way to Brampton, the second team from Newfoundland and Labrador to head to Ontario to relieve health-care workers in COVID-19 hot spots.
Premier Andrew Furey, speaking Tuesday morning at a military hangar before the team's departure, said reports from an N.L. team already in Toronto show the need is urgent and that front-line workers there appreciate the help.
"They've been welcomed with open arms," Furey said.
"They recognize how stressed the system is and how stressed the physicians and nurses are, and this little bit of reprieve — even though it's small — goes a long way to helping the morale of the teams that are working so hard on the front lines in Toronto, and I'm sure this team is going to do the same in Brampton."
The premier said about 40 people volunteered to go. Among those leaving Tuesday was Dr. Art Rideout, a reconstructive surgeon in Eastern Health who has travelled as part of Furey's Team Broken Earth, which has provided relief work in Haiti since a devastating earthquake there in 2010.
"I'm very thankful to be here, very proud to be doing it," he told reporters Tuesday in St. John's before leaving.
Rideout said he and the team have been assigned to Brampton Civic Hospital's COVID-19 unit.
"Providing supportive care to a group that hasn't had a break for a long time, I think it means a lot."
The setting is different from the earthquake relief role of Team Broken Earth, but there are similarities, he said.
"The theme is the same. Somebody needs help, and if I can do a little bit to help them along the way, well, that's the way I was raised," he said. "Being able to help somebody anywhere is a good thing, and if we can do it in our own country, I think that's a special thing."
Michelle Murphy, a nurse in Eastern Health's day surgery unit, said she's feeling "a lot of emotions" about the trip. She found out just five days ago she would be leaving.
"I'm nervous — I really don't know what we're facing. I'm excited, I'm honoured to be able to give back in my own country," said Murphy, who, like Rideout, has travelled to Haiti with Team Broken Earth. "It's a good thing. I think it's great that we can do this. I never dreamed that I'd have the opportunity to give back here in my own country."
Front-line workers in Ontario are exhausted, she said.
"If I can go there and give a nurse an extra five minutes on her coffee break, or I can hold the hand of somebody, or I can wipe the tear of somebody, then I'm helping.
Plan does not include vaccines
Newfoundland and Labrador's support will remain personnel only — not vaccines. Furey said his position on reallocating vaccine doses to harder-hit areas of the country has not changed.
"All the provinces made their plans with respect to the vaccines based on a per capita model, and so we're still sticking with that right now."
Furey compared vaccines to fire prevention, which he said is less urgent for Ontario right now.
"Ontario has a forest fire; we're sending firefighters. They don't need a fire prevention unit because there's an active fire burning."
Regarding criticism that Newfoundland and Labrador is sending doctors and nurses to Ontario despite deficiencies in its own health-care system, especially in Labrador and in rural Newfoundland, Furey called it a "false equivalence."
"We're not really comparing apples to apples there. This is an acute crisis need," he said, adding that he's been speaking with the provincial Registered Nurses' Union about addressing the province's shortage of physicians.
"It's not the same scale, it's not the same demand right now. I don't subscribe to the fact that you have to do one and not the other."
Five of the seven-member team crew left in a military aircraft, with stops planned for Deer Lake and Stephenville for the other two. The team is expected to land in Toronto on Tuesday afternoon.
The flight leaves one week after the first aid team departed.
The health-care contingent came together after Ontario Premier Doug Ford asked for help to deal with a soaring caseload of severely ill patients, as well as caseloads fuelled by highly contagious virus variants.