Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says a serious lack of capacity for laboratory testing is the real story behind a media report on the premier’s decision to override medical advice and open COVID-19 testing to all Ontarians last spring.
A Globe and Mail report of testimony given to the independent commission looking into the COVID-19 outbreak into Long-Term Care gives details about how Premier Ford overruled public health experts. The real issue is a need for “immediate and significant funding to expand the capacity of Ontario’s public health laboratories,” said Thomas.
“It wasn’t wise to open up COVID testing beyond high-risk groups,” said Thomas. “It caused a massive system backlog when labs clearly didn’t have the capacity to respond.
“But the solution isn’t finger pointing,” said Thomas. “It’s addressing those ongoing capacity issues by investing in public health labs. It’s building a robust system that can respond to future crises and save lives.”
The union says it’s time for Ford to focus on building capacity across the public sector. An expansion of public health labs would require a growing number of laboratory professionals, and OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says Ontario’s public colleges can help.
“Ontario’s community colleges have a huge role to play in overcoming this crisis and preparing for the road ahead,” said Almeida. “We need to start training the next generation of lab professionals and make sure they’ve got good jobs waiting so that we never find ourselves in this mess again.”
Recently, the Ford government announced $115 million in funding for Ontario’s publicly funded colleges to support training for up to 8200 Personal Support Workers (PSWs), as part of a strategy to alleviate the crisis in long-term care.
“Building up capacity in our public labs should also be top priority,” said Thomas. “Preventing delayed test results means preventing more infections and deaths, especially in our hard-hit nursing and long-term care homes. But we need trained professionals to do this work.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” said Thomas. “The government made some missteps at the beginning of the pandemic – but what government didn’t? None were perfect. But when it comes to lab testing, his biggest mistake would be failing to act now. It’s time to fix Ontario’s capacity crisis once and for all.”
For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931