2,300 retired, part-time, faculty and full-time nurses answer call to help with Telehealth wait time

cjos telehealth

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, the RNAO reported the total was up to 3,790 nurses.

To deal with the inundation of calls to Ontario’s provincial health line Telehealth, the Registered Nurses of Ontario recently put out a call for help.

CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun said within 30 hours, roughly 2,300 nurses volunteered.

“Everybody’s stepping up to the plate,” she said.

About 50 had already been onboarded to the Ottawa Public Health Unit on the weekend and Grinspun said more were being deployed to remaining provincial units on Monday.

“These are nurses that either retired or they are faculty at the universities that are now doing online, or they work part-time,” she said, adding in some are already working full-time, but are able to help on the weekend or on evenings.

Grinspun said they’re not all being utilized immediately, but more can be later on as current nurses get tired or unfortunately may end up in self-isolation themselves due to exposure.

“You will need people to replace them, and this is why we are urging the public to practice social distancing,” she said.

Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Monday morning that an additional 130 nurses were being deployed to conduct assessments and referrals among callers who request a callback.

Telehealth will also increase intake staff to reduce wait times for initial calls.

The government also announced Monday it’s exploring if other groups in the Ontario Public Service that could provide relief.

Callers have reported multi-hours long waits to get through, while leaving messages for a call back that have still not been returned.

The government says as of Monday morning, over 8,000 calls had been made.

“We understand that people are anxious to get the advice about next steps as soon as possible,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said in a statement. “But unless you are experiencing severe symptoms or a medical emergency, the best place for you to say is at home until you receive advice, which will often be to stay home and self-monitor.”

Monday’s Telehealth measures come after the province opened assessment centres at various hospitals and have set up an online assessment tool at Ontario.ca/coronavirus.
“Please, and I say please, use this tool to determine if you need care,” Premier Doug Ford said Monday, adding only people experiencing symptoms should attend the centres.

That message was echoed by Grinspun, who said Ontarians should do their part by using the tool to see if they actually have to call.

“We need the public to step up,” she said. “We are on borrowed time.”