COVID-19 Update for Clients and Families from CEO Kathryn Nichol
To VHA’s valued clients and caregivers,
While we have all been navigating this pandemic for close to two years now, the current situation is different than any other point in this public health crisis. Over 2020/21, the focus for the health sector was infection prevention and control – and ensuring that we changed our practices and processes as needed to reduce and eliminate the chance of transmission of infection and keep our clients and families and staff and service providers as healthy and safe as possible. Over 2021/22, the focus for the health sector has evolved to managing widespread absenteeism and a lack of health human resource capacity.
In other parts of the health system, we are seeing hospital units closing, procedures and diagnostics paused, access to in-person primary care limited, mass staff redeployment to critical areas, and services (ie meal preparation) in congregate settings outsourced on an emergency basis. This is because organizations are experiencing very high levels of staff absenteeism. Home and community care is no different, with organizations focusing on ensuring that those clients and families who need our care and services the most are prioritized. This includes those who are very ill, are receiving end-of-life care, have significant medical complexities, have severely restricted mobility, and have limited or no support network at home.
VHA has had an incident command team in place since January 2020 managing our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been times when the team was in high gear such as March 2020 when we had our first set of public health restrictions announced in Ontario, and there have been times when the team was able to gear down and even pause, such as summer 2020 when we had a brief reprieve in COVID activity. As of December 2021, the team has been back in high gear due to the highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant of COVID and the resulting widespread community transmission of infection. We have seen a rapid rise in staff and service provider absenteeism due to illness, isolation protocols and, more recently, child/family care due to schools moving online. This has severely impacted our ability to deliver service and we have had to move quickly to prioritizing care and service.
We aren’t doing this alone. All home and community care providers are experiencing the same capacity pressures and we are working closely with our funder and government partner, Home and Community Care Support Services (formerly known as the LHIN), to work towards consistency across the province and timely communication with clients and families.
We recognize that this is having a huge impact on you – who rely on us and our publicly-funded health care system to provide you with high quality and reliable home and community-based care. You may be experiencing delays receiving a response from our office, your care provider may not the same one you are used to, your schedule may have changed, you may have visits that aren’t being filled, and you may have been contacted and informed that your service has had to be put on temporary hold. We know this is devastating for you, your family, and your caregivers.
What I can reassure you of is that our team is working relentlessly to manage the crisis, to ensure service continues for those who need it most and to connect directly with those whose needs we just cannot meet right now. We can only thank you for your patience and understanding with our team members as we work through this.
Public Health experts expect this wave of the pandemic will be intense and time-limited and cases are predicted to drop quickly once they peak. I am thankful that VHA’s team is fully vaccinated with two doses and that booster shots are now available for our team members and for adult clients and family members. I am certainly hopeful that this COVID wave will crest quickly so we can resume the excellent care and service that our clients and families need and deserve and that our staff and service providers take pride in providing – and so we can all enjoy a brighter lead up to spring.
Until then, my deepest appreciation for your patience and understanding, and I look forward to providing you with a more positive update soon.
For further information about VHA’s COVID-19 response, please click here.
President & CEO