Community-based nurses, doctors feeling 'invisible' during pandemic

Some nurses and doctors working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa's communities say they feel left out of the narrative, and invisible to government and public health officials making decisions about the vaccine rollout.

Primary care workers say they're facing same risks as counterparts in hospitals

Some nurses and doctors working in primary care say they're feeling left out of the discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially about the vaccine rollout. (Shutterstock/Alliance Images)

Some nurses and doctors working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa's communities say they feel left out of the narrative, and invisible to government and public health officials making decisions about the vaccine rollout.

Emily Rodney, a registered practical nurse in Ottawa who specializes in diabetic footcare, has been making house calls during the pandemic. 

"I definitely feel invisible," Rodney said. "I just think because we're not under that government funding, we just get lost."

We're left out of the conversation, and that harms the community.- Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, Ottawa family physician

Rodney said community-based health-care professionals face the same risks from COVID-19 as their counterparts in hospitals, some of whom were first in line to get vaccinated in Ottawa.

As of Friday, the province's phased vaccine schedule doesn't explicitly state when primary care workers can get vaccinated, but generally states health-care workers will get their turn sometime in or after January. Front-line essential workers and those who care for people with high-risk chronic conditions are scheduled for vaccination in Phase 2, between March and July.

"We have a big impact in the community, but in the government's eyes I think we're just very small," Rodney said.

She said her patients, many of whom are elderly and isolated, rely on her not just for health care, but for their social and mental well-being. They also look to her for answers.

"I feel bad when I don't have more information for them as to when they'll possibly get vaccinated, or even when I might," Rodney said. "It's just an awful position."

Emily Rodney is a registered practical nurse in Ottawa who cares for patients in their homes. (Submitted by Emily Rodney)

Heather Camrass, executive director of the Community Nursing Registry of Ottawa, said her primary role during the pandemic is making sure the registry's members have as much information as possible. 

She said it's still not clear to her where primary care providers fit into the vaccination plan.

"They fit somewhere, but it's not obvious," said Camrass. That uncertainty adds stress to their already taxing jobs and give them the sense that "they're out there on their own," she said.

"There's a lot fear, a lot of anxiety," Camrass said. "It's the fear of the unknown that makes it worse."

Family doctor feels 'disposable'

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in downtown Ottawa, said she tried to volunteer to vaccinate people, but was turned away. Well into the new year, she says family doctors still don't have a "plan on the ground" for vaccinating patients.

"We're so left out of this picture that it's just kind of mind-boggling," said Kaplan-Myrth. "We're left out of the conversation, and that harms the community."

WATCH | Family doctor says she feels public health officials 'don't care' about her sector:

Primary care physicians feel ‘a sense of invisibility’ in vaccine rollout

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth says there’s no indication when family doctors might start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine despite being a critical part of the country’s healthcare system. 0:53

To Kaplan-Myrth, primary care is the backbone of the health-care system. 

"And you want us to wait [until] when? Like, April?" she asked. "It's the sense of we're disposable, we're dispensable. They don't care."

She said there's a disconnect between what officials are saying and what's actually happening on the ground, and that's taking a toll on her patients' well-being.

"[That's] one of the most exhausting and frustrating things," she said. "This is life and death."

'Nature of the beast,' says doctor

Meanwhile, family physician Dr. Alison Eyre says she's satisfied with the efforts of public health officials. 

Eyre, who works out of the Centretown Community Health Centre, said provincial and local officials have contacted her, and she's taken part in several meetings about community vaccine rollout. It's still in the works, she said.

"The rollout hasn't been figured out yet, and there's huge frustration ... [but] no one was given a playbook on how to do this," said Eyre. "It is slow and the communications are slow, and we're just starting to learn about it. I do think that's the nature of the beast."

WATCH | Family doctor says rollout delays are 'nature of the beast':

Doctor urges patience when it comes to wider vaccine rollout

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
Dr. Alison Eyre, family physician with Centretown Community Health Centre, says the rollout of the vaccine — and communication about the plan — has been slow, but calls it “the nature of the beast” due to the novelty of the situation. 0:51

She doesn't fully agree with how the first vaccine doses were distributed — mainly in and through hospitals — but she said she understands why those decisions were made. 

OPH says it's waiting for more info

In an emailed statement, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said it's waiting for more information from the province about the role community health-care workers will play in vaccine delivery, but is already working with a sub-group of local workers to plan their future involvement.

"OPH has offered the opportunity to community physicians to participate in the vaccination campaign and to date, more than 300 physicians have expressed interest in participating," it said.

CBC News has contacted the province's Ministry of Health for comment and is waiting to hear back.

A registered practical nurse who specializes in diabetic foot care and family doctor describe how the pandemic is taking a toll on them and the communities they serve here in Ottawa. 10:06

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