The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reports on Canada’s health care workforce capacity. In 2018, CIHI reported there were 89,911 physicians and 431,769 nurses in Canada (CIHI, 2020). However, the availability of various trained health care personnel varies across the countries, with many provinces experiencing historical shortages in staffing (CIHI, 2007). As such, numerous federal, provincial and territorial actions have been taken to prepare for the pandemic surge.
Measures at the federal level to ensure sufficient workforce capacity have included, for example, removing barriers for international students working in essential services. On April 22, 2020, the federal government announced they would remove the restriction that prohibits international students for working more than 20 hours per week while classes are in session, provided they are working in an essential service (Canada, 2020s). As well, to recognize the effort of essential workers in Canada, on May 7, the federal government announced that they had come to an agreement, or were in the process of coming to an agreement, with all provinces and territories to cost share wage top-ups for essential workers (Canada, 2020y).
To support the long-term care sector, on April 17, the federal government announced the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) medical personnel and resources to assist in long-term care facilities, which were experiencing shortages in staff, PPE and other critical resources and had been particularly affected by the pandemic (Canada, 2020o). A federal update on May 7, 2020 reported that the CAF had over 1,020 personnel committed to the support of 20 long-term care facilities in Quebec, including over 670 medical and support personnel contributing inside facilities and nearly 350 individuals providing essential day-to-day support, such as delivering PPE and other needed supplies (Canada, 2020z). Over the following days, CAF planned to deploy a total of 1,350 members to 25 long-term care facilities in Quebec (ibid). On April 28, additional CAF members were also deployed to Ontario long-term care facilities, including approximately 265 medical and support personnel serving in five long-term care facilities (Canada, 2020z). A federal update on May 15 confirmed that there were approximately 1,400 personnel assisting 25 long-term care facilities in Quebec and 275 members assisting five long-term care facilities in Ontario (Canada, 2020bd). In addition, the CAF’s Canadian Rangers, who live and work in remote, isolated and coasted communities across Canada, have been deployed to support COVID-19 efforts in remote communities, including Nunavik, Côte-Nord and Basse-Côte-Nord (Canada, 2020bd). For example, in Northern Saskatchewan, the Canadian Rangers are providing logistical support including wellness checks, transportation and distribution of local supplies to community members (Canada, 2020bd). On June 26, the Government of Canada announced that CAF deployment is no longer required in Quebec long-term care facilities and, further, announced that the federal government would provide support by funding the Canadian Red Cross to rapidly scale up a new humanitarian workforce to complement existing health measures in long-term care and residential facilities (Canada, 2020ay). With this announcement, the federal government confirmed that they would maintain ten military teams made up of medically trained support personnel in Quebec to serve as a rapid-response force in the event of any emergency situations developing in long-term care facilities (Canada, 2020ay).
On May 12, Prime Minister Trudeau stated that the federal government would work with the PT governments to find “lasting solutions” to improve long-term care facilities across the country and to address the issues that have been highlighted during the pandemic (K. Harris, 2020b).
Measures have also been taken at the PT level to mitigate workforce shortages. In an effort to support the continued availability of health care workers throughout the pandemic, several governments have made efforts to ensure childcare is available for all essential service workers, particularly as schools have been ordered to close; for example, most PTs have exempted certain day cares from mandatory closure orders for the explicit purpose of caring for the children of essential workers and some have provided financial supports to cover/supplement day care costs (Ministry of Children and Family, 2020; Ontario, 2020c; Quebec, 2020a). While safety precautions are in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities, some outbreaks have occurred including an outbreak of 13 staff and 7 children at a childcare centre in Toronto (Aguilar, 2020). Various PTs have also announced legislation to ensure that health and social services organizations, such as hospitals, can take measures to ensure they have the workforce capacity needed to manage the COVID-19 outbreak. These measures include allowing organizations to redeploy staff to different units or facilities, cancel vacations or leaves, transfer personnel as needed, and modify work schedules (Ontario, 2020b). Ontario, for example, has also launched a new Health Workforce Matching Portal offering health care providers a range of experiences to join in the province's response to COVID-19 (Office of the Premier, 2020a).
Specific provincial and territorial measures are reported by the North American Observatory on Health Systems and Policies on their dedicated COVID-19 page (https://ihpme.utoronto.ca/research/research-centres-initiatives/nao/covid19/).
See full reference list under ‘Key links and articles: Full list of references’.