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B.C. gets 1 million calls within 1st hour of opening phone lines to vaccine appointments for elderly

Call centres in British Columbia received a million calls in the first hour after they opened to receive COVID-19 vaccine appointments for some of the province’s oldest residents, according to the doctor in charge of the province’s rollout plan.

Dr. Penny Ballem, who is also chair of Vancouver Coastal Health, spoke on CBC’s The Early Edition just after 8 a.m. Monday morning and said while call agents were hit with a “massive onslaught” the minute the lines opened, it was not unexpected and should not worry eligible residents who have not yet secured an appointment.

“Everyone’s going to get their vaccine,” said Ballem, adding it’s a big job, but the province is prepared.

The call centres opened at 7 a.m. at the Fraser, Island, Interior, Northern and Vancouver Coastal health authorities to allow appointments for people 90 years and older and Indigenous people who are 65 and older or identify as elders.

In less than three hours after they opened, 1.7 million calls came in.

Karen Bloemink, vice-president of pandemic response with Interior Health, asks people not to phone the call centre ahead of their eligibility dates that are based on their birth years.

“Call volumes will be closely monitored and if there are some delays initially, we will be working in the background to adjust and respond quickly,” she said. “Once an individual becomes eligible to receive their vaccine, they can book their appointment at any time.”

Plenty of spots remain

Health Minister Adrian Dix says there are about 47,000 people in the province who are 90 and older and 35,000 who are Indigenous people over 65, so he urged anyone who is not calling on behalf of someone in those categories to hang up the phone.

“I very much appreciate the enthusiasm of everybody calling in. But I would ask that people allow those who are eligible this week to book appointments,” he said. “That is a massive number of phone calls. If that were to continue, obviously no phone system would respond to that.”

Dix says health authorities are booking thousands of appointments and plenty of time slots remain.

There are still five days left to book for people in those age groups, so if callers don’t get through today, he says there is still time.

“This is not first-come, first-serve,” said Dix. “There are going to be lots of opportunities.”


Dix says the phone lines are the focus right now because of the age of those who are eligible.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking system on the first day. Web-based platforms across health regions will become a larger component of booking as younger age categories get their turn, Dix said.

Dix says the “enormous” response on Monday reflects the significant support for vaccination in the province. 

Caller frustration

Some residents calling on behalf of their elderly parents spent all morning trying to get through on the phone lines.

Elaine Husdon, whose father is 95, said she called the Fraser Health number when the line opened at 7 a.m., “exactly on the dot,” and received a busy signal.

She said she has been redialing constantly and can’t even get on hold — she either gets a busy signal or a recording that says there is a high call volume that instructs her to hang up and try again.


A nurse takes a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination dose at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Husdon said her father lives with her family and she decided to take a leave of absence from her job at a school because of the risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to him.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, also said she only received a busy signal every time she has called.

She said she spent two hours between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. constantly pressing redial.

Tapley said she wishes that the health authority had set up an online booking system from the beginning, as Fraser Health did.

“I feel a bit frustrated because I know it’s very important to my dad to get (the vaccine),” she said, adding her parents have had a lonely year during the pandemic.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that they can return to their normal lives,” said Tapley.


Who is eligible now

Seniors are being asked to phone during the following weeks, based on their age:

  • For the week of March 8: seniors born in 1931 or earlier (aged 90 and above) or Indigenous seniors born in 1956 or earlier (aged 65 and above).
  • For the week of March 15: seniors born in 1936 or earlier (aged 85 and above).
  • For the week of March 22: seniors born in 1941 or earlier (aged 80 and above).

Once someone becomes eligible, they are able to book at any time — meaning no one will miss their window for booking an appointment. 

The first appointments will be available on March 15. 

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CBC | Health News

This is what COVID-19 looks like through the eyes of nurses on the front lines

Turning a desperately ill COVID-19 patient onto their stomach may seem simple enough to the uninitiated. It’s not.

In this case, at Quebec City’s Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus, it requires a total of seven people crowded around an intensive care bed. 

We often hear about how demanding it is for hospital staff and long-term care workers to handle the added workload foisted upon them by the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s just one illustration.

After draping a sheet over the patient, the edges are rolled into the sheet underneath. A pair of pillows are now snug to his chest, and the rolling begins. First, the patient is slid to the edge of the bed. On three, he’s turned to his side. Another three-count, and he is softly delivered onto his stomach.

The room empties. Everyone has work to do.

The Quebec capital has seen a massive spike in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, and a trio of nurses say they’re worried by members of the public trivializing the illness.

To help convince people to take the coronavirus more seriously during the upcoming holidays, they opened their doors to Radio-Canada.

Their names are Cathy Deschênes, Jennifer Boissonnault and Lindsay Vongsawath-Chouinard. Their aim: to show what life in the hot zone looks like.

Each of them agreed to wear a small camera so the public could see how a typical day unfolds. They filmed their colleagues and their patients, and illustrated how the pandemic has made the job harder and more complex.

(scroll up to view the video)


From left to right, Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus intensive care nurses Lindsay Vongsawath-Chouinard, Jennifer Boissonnault and Cathy Deschênes. (Radio-Canada)

Their point is not to elicit sympathy. As Deschênes says: “It’s difficult, but we love our jobs.”

Instead, they want to show the devastating path some COVID-19 patients are called upon to travel: patients who require more and more staff at their bedside, and need ever larger amounts of treatment time.

And each one of those treatments involves special planning and safety equipment. The ICU rooms have sliding doors, which makes it easier to maintain hot, warm and cold zones. And maintain them, they must.

Each shift has a nurse in charge of making sure the hygiene procedures are being followed and that personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and shields, is worn correctly.

“No one in our department has contaminated themselves (with the virus), we’ve had no outbreaks in intensive care and we’re very proud of that,” Boissonnault says, at one point.

The average age of the COVID-19 patient in the unit is between 60 and 75.

“Some might think that’s old. We don’t think so,” Boissonnault says.

The province has 390 intensive care beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients (20 for pediatric cases), and Enfant-Jésus, in the Maizerets area northeast of downtown Quebec City, accounts for 22 of them.

The unit is not short of business.

Of the 610 COVID-19 patients the hospital has treated so far this year, 90 were in intensive care. And 144 people who entered the hospital with the disease never made it home.

To work in an intensive care unit is to accept that not every patient can be saved, but COVID-19 is rough even for a group of people who must become inured to tragedy.

Public health restrictions mean it’s often not possible for patients’ relatives to be by their bedside, so when things take a turn for the worst, the only hand to hold usually belongs to a nurse, orderly, doctor or other staff member.


Staff prepare a room in the intensive care ward at Enfant-Jésus hospital in Quebec City. The unit opened its doors to Radio-Canada for a rare look at the daily battle against COVID-19. (Radio-Canada)

At one point, a family is forced to make the devastating decision to halt treatment on their intubated loved one. Two nurses each hold a hand as he is prepared for ‘comfort care’ — palliative measures.

“We’re with you sir,” says Boissonault, holding his left hand. “We’re taking care of you.”

The typical hospital stay for a COVID-19 patient lasts 17 days, but in the ICU sometimes it can stretch to 40 or beyond. Attachments form. When someone dies, there are often tears. There have been weeks when that happens four or five times in just one section of the unit. 

People infected with this virus can sometimes take a sudden, catastrophic turn.

“To give comfort to a patient whose family can’t be there with them in their final moments, to be the ones who take their hands in ours during their final moments … it’s troubling,” says Vongsawath-Chouinard, her voice cracking.

So when there is good news, it is celebrated.

Recently, a patient from the Saguenay called Daniel Bouchard made enough progress to be released from the unit to a regular COVID-19 ward in the hospital.


Daniel Bouchard, 65, is wheeled out of Enfant-Jésus hospital’s intensive care unit in Quebec City as staff applaud. He spent 8 days in the unit with COVID-19. (Radio-Canada)

It was his 65th birthday. He had been there eight days, some of them touch-and-go.

The nurses and medical staff got him a card and a small cake. He thanks them in a raspy voice and is overcome with emotion, weeping in his wheelchair as a nurse rubs his shoulders.

“Your tears say a lot,” Boissonnault says.

Safety measures oblige, the gathered staff had to sing Happy Birthday from the next room.

“Thanks so much, you’ve been an all-star team,” Bouchard says. 

Minutes later, it is time to leave. Outside the room, scrub-wearing staff line the hall.

They applaud as he is wheeled out of view.

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CBC | Health News

Canada’s largest mental health hospital calls for removal of police from front lines for people in crisis

Canada’s largest psychiatric facility is throwing its support behind mounting calls to remove officers from the front lines for people in mental health emergencies.

“It’s clear we need a new way forward,” the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto said Tuesday.

The move follows a string of deaths involving people in crisis, including Ejaz Choudry — a 62-year-old father of four with schizophrenia killed by police in Mississauga, Ont., after his family called a non-emergency line.

Choudry was the third Canadian in crisis to be killed by police over the past month. On June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Eight days later, Rodney Levi, 48, was fatally shot by the RCMP in New Brunswick. The chief of his First Nation community later described him as troubled but not violent.

D’Andre Campbell, 26, was fatally shot in April in Brampton, Ont., after his family says he called 911 for help.

“For too long, the health-care system has relied on police to respond to mental health crises in the community,” CAMH said in its statement.

“Mental Health is health. This means that people experiencing a mental health crisis need health care.

“Police should not be first responders. Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work.”

Racism compounds crisis interactions, giving rise to the “tragic outcomes” Canada has seen recently, CAMH added.

In Toronto, mobile mental health teams consist of a registered nurse and police officer, but are mandated only to provide secondary responses. Police officers alone remain the first responders, particularly for calls involving a weapon.

WATCH | Ontario shooting death raises questions about sending armed officers to mental health calls:

Serious questions are being raised about sending armed police officers to respond to mental health crises after a Mississauga, Ont., man was shot to death over the weekend. The man’s family is now demanding a public inquiry, and the officer’s firing. 1:48

That was the case in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year old Black woman who fell to her death in Toronto after police were called to her home for reports of an assault involving a knife.

In the days afterward, police chief Mark Saunders said: “There’s no way I would send a nurse into a knife fight.”

Nearby Peel Region has a similar model: the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, launched in January, deploys from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. every day. But whether the teams serve as first responders or take a secondary role depends on the nature of the call, the force told CBC News. 

John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and now the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, says his organization has called on the Toronto Police Services Board to have a mental health nurse paired with a plainclothes officer respond to calls for people in crisis.

At every turn, he says, he’s been met with resistance.

‘The result is that people get killed’

“The board has consistently refused and said we’ve got to send the armed, uniformed officers first,” he told CBC News. “Well, the result is that people get killed.”

As for the argument that armed officers are needed because a situation might be violent, Sewell says trained mental health professionals handle such situations regularly and are trained in de-escalation — something that police aren’t primarily trained to do.


John Sewell, a former Toronto mayor and now the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, has been at the forefront of a push to restructure the system responding to people in crisis. (CBC)

“When someone has had experiences with people in uniform that involved in some way being restrained or tackled… there might be a certain amount of scar tissue so to speak when they’re put into a similar situation,” said David Gratzer, staff psychiatrist at CAMH, emphasizing the vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent.

“Mental health professionals deal with agitated patients frequently and they understand that certain techniques can be highly successful.”

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of Toronto’s police board from 2005 to 2015, says he was encouraged to see more mobile crisis units added during his time there, but says the program falls short because they don’t operate around the clock and aren’t designated as first responders.

“That’s where we hit a road block,” he said.  

Board ‘willing to explore’ other models

Of the nearly one million phone calls Toronto police receive every year, about 30,000 are mental health related, the force has said. Across Canada, from 2000 to 2017, a CBC News investigation previously found, 70 per cent of the people who died in police encounters struggled with mental health issues, substance abuse or both.

In an email to CBC News, Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart said the board remains “very supportive” of the existing mobile crisis team program, but that it is “committed to working to explore enhancements of and alternatives to this concept.

“The board is also willing to explore and consider other models that would provide better service to those in our community experiencing mental health or addiction issues; these models may include these services delivered by mental health experts without police,” Hart said. 


Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore both died after police were called to do wellness checks on them. (Facebook)

All of the above cases are being investigated by the relevant police oversight agencies.

In a statement, the Peel Regional Police Board said while it couldn’t comment on individual cases, “these deaths are a tragic reminder that there is much work to be done,” adding that the incidents will inform the board’s work on key issues including community engagement, strategic planning and the upcoming budget.

As Ontario’s police watchdog has itself pointed out, however, officers at the centre of cases involving serious injury or death of civilians cannot be compelled to turn over their notes or participate in interviews with the Special Investigations Unit.

Some say that means the SIU itself lacks the teeth to fully investigate allegations of police wrongdoing.

Asked Tuesday if the province would consider amending the legislation, Jenessa Crognali, spokesperson for Ontario’s attorney general said the rules stem from “principles against self-incrimination.”

She said those rules will remain even after the current Police Services Act is replaced with the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, passed earlier this year.

As for whether police services being funded through taxpayer money means officers should be compelled to answer to an oversight body, Crognali did not answer. 

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CBC | Health News

‘Polite’ racism infects Canada says Olympian who was on front lines of Oka protests 30 years ago

Protesters standing face-to-face with armed officers from the national guard – it’s a jarring yet all-too-familiar scene playing out across the U.S. on a nightly basis right now, as thousands take to the streets demanding systemic change in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

Canadian Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller has been there before and is reminding Canadians how real racism is in this country.

“Canadians are polite racists. They don’t want to acknowledge there is that privilege,” Horn-Miller told CBC Sports.

“When we’re talking about racism in Canada, it’s not like what you face in the United States. It’s more subtle. It’s the indifference. It’s the insensitivity. Or people saying they don’t see colour.”

This summer marks 30 years since Horn-Miller spent 78 consecutive days on the front lines of resistance during the Oka Crisis.

In the summer of 1990, the town of Oka, Que., planned to expand a golf course without consultation onto a piece of land the locals call The Pines. The land is sacred to the Mohawk, who were opposed to the expansion because it is where their people are buried.

A Mohawk from Kahnawake, Que., Horn-Miller was just 14 years old when she was tasked with cooking midnight meals and breakfast to take to the warriors who were in the bunkers. She vividly remembers the escalating tensions between protestors and police – and then the military was brought in.

“It was such a horrific misuse of the military. I’ve met people on both sides who are still traumatized from that to this day,” Horn-Miller said.

“I’d be looking down the barrels of hundreds of guns. I can’t help but think about that as I watch today. Thinking about the national guard being sent in.”

WATCH | Canadian athletes speak out against racism:

Canadian athletes have been speaking out against racism and for change, including tennis youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime, basketball legend Steve Nash, and Olympians Kia Nurse, Karina LeBlanc and Perdita Felicien 2:38

On the evening of Sept. 26, the last night of the crisis, Horn-Miller made her move to escape the area. She was trying to reach the media barricade that had been moved, fearful that if she didn’t reach the cameras in time, soldiers may harm her.

They did.

Horn-Miller was stabbed in the chest by a soldier’s bayonet while racing her four-year-old sister, Kaniehtiio Horn, to safety. The bayonet missed her heart by a centimetre.

“I looked at one of the soldiers and I said, ‘I know you.’ I pointed at him and put my four-year-old sister behind my back to protect her and that’s when I got hit in the chest,” Horn-Miller recalled, fighting back tears.

“I was in such anger and pain and sadness and rage. I thought my body was going to explode.”

Horn-Miller didn’t receive medical treatment for 22 hours, held captive inside a bus in a makeshift military base.

Turning pain into motivation

It took a long time for Horn-Miller to heal from the trauma she experienced in the summer of 1990 — she says that work continues to this day. She was young, confused and frustrated by how unequal and unfair Canada felt for her.

“Being angry was a fundamental part of me for a long time. It was slowly killing me,” she said.

She used that pain to motivate her. A prolific swimmer, Horn-Miller excelled as a water polo player. She was fierce, gritty and tenacious – attributes that landed her on the national team.

She was part of the team that won gold at the Pan Am Games in 1999, before becoming the first Mohawk woman from Canada to make it to the Olympics, doing so in 2000.


Horn-Miller became the first Mohawk woman from Canada to make it to an Olympics, co-captaining the Canadian water polo team in Sydney in 2000. (Jeff De Booy/The Canadian Press)

Horn-Miller’s stardom soared when she was put on the cover of Time magazine for being an Indigenous sporting hero and activist. It brought unprecedented attention to Canada’s water polo program.

“I was their poster girl on the cover of Time. They were getting all this press attention because I’m Native and the Oka Crisis. They were using me, but when I became a problem, I got kicked out,” she said.

Pushed out of Canada’s water polo team

The love affair ended quickly. Horn-Miller started to speak out about abuse from the coach of the program after the Olympics. The team failed to medal. Horn-Miller says the program was in disarray and needed an overhaul.

“There was this push within the team to clear house. The abuse started to rise and rise and rise,” she said.

Sport Canada and Water Polo Canada brought in representatives from York University Ethics in Sport to investigate – Horn-Miller said they found abuse, not sexual in nature, had taken place. Coaches were fired and a new regime was brought in.

“Canadians are polite racists. They don’t want to acknowledge there is that privilege– Waneek Horn-Miller

Not long after, Horn-Miller was told she would no longer be part of the Water Polo Canada team because of “team cohesion” issues.

As a co-captain of the team, Horn-Miller understood leadership from an Indigenous perspective, taught to her by her family and ancestors, about doing something and speaking out against racial abuse.

She believes many within the Water Polo Canada community could not understand why that was so important to her.

“I remember sitting there in a final meeting, with one of my teammates and my uncle on one side of the room, and the entire rest of the water polo team and their lawyers were sitting on the other side,” Horn-Miller said.

“I thought they hated me. They were so indifferent to it. That’s what’s so heartbreaking and lonely, and the worst part of this whole thing is the indifference.”


Horn-Miller is seen following her induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Horn-Miller would never compete for Canada again at an international event in water polo and says racism played a large part in that.

“I remember my teammates saying, ‘Are you calling me a racist?’ They were so angry. I don’t think Canadians truly understand racism and what it means to be racist,” she said.

‘I endured a system’

Last year, Horn-Miller was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She admits now that on the night of the awards ceremony in Toronto, she was apprehensive about attending.

“I’m up there with [skier] Alex Bilodeau and [NHL goalie] Marty Brodeur and people who have won. I’m there because I endured. I endured a system and came out the other end successful,” Horn-Miller said.

But she went, celebrated alongside some of Canada’s greatest athletes.

Months earlier at the initial announcement gala, Horn-Miller delivered a message that was met with a standing ovation by hundreds. Though she was honoured, she couldn’t help but wonder where that support was before.

“I’m on the stage and said, ‘I don’t think people should leave sport damaged, hurt and in pain.’ That’s not what sport is about,” she said.

“I looked at them as they stood and thought, where were you 20 years ago when I got pushed out?”

Now a mother of three, Horn-Miller understands how important it is to continue to shine light on the injustices facing minorities in Canada.

“Canada, for a very long time, has avoided hard conversations. We have to have hard conversations. Our children deserve a future where they can achieve their greatest potential and live in safety no matter who they are.”

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CBC | Sports News

Norwegian and Carnival cruise lines headed in opposite directions as industry cautiously plans reopening

The world’s third-largest cruise ship operator cast doubt on its ability to stay afloat as a company for much longer, even as one of its biggest rivals said it is taking its first tentative steps toward reopening after COVID-19.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. warned investors it doesn’t have enough money to cover its financial obligations this year, an announcement that caused shares in the company to sell off heavily.

“COVID-19 has had, and is expected to continue to have, a significant impact on our financial condition and operations, which adversely affects our ability to obtain acceptable financing to fund resulting reductions in cash from operations,” Norwegian Cruise Line said.

The company said that as of April 24, advanced bookings for the remainder of the year were “meaningfully lower than the prior year, with pricing down mid-single digits.”

The company announced an emergency stock and bond sale to raise $ 1.6 billion US to try to keep the company afloat

Norwegian shares lost about 20 per cent on the New York Stock Exchange to change hands just below $ 12 a share. As recently as February, those same shares were worth more than $ 55 apiece.

Cruise ships have been thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no sail” order to all cruise companies in U.S. waters on March 14.

That order was set to expire on April 10, but has since been extended multiple times. Unless there is a further extension, the no sail order is set to expire on July 24. But Norwegian’s dire warnings on Tuesday cast doubt on its ability to stay in business.

The company has suspended all of its cruises at least until the end of June, and has so far provided no indication of when it could conceivably set sail again.

In a regulatory filing the company said it owed $ 6 billion at the end of last year and given its lack of revenue, its current debts “have raised substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern, as the Company does not have sufficient liquidity to meet its obligations over the next twelve months.”

Carnival announces 8 new cruises in August

Norwegian’s bleak tone for its future comes as rival Carnival said it is taking the first tentative steps toward reopening operations later this summer.

Carnival — the world’s largest cruise operator, which owns 27 ships and transported five million people last year — said it is booking eight cruises scheduled to leave from Texas and Florida some time in August, bound for destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

“We continue to engage with the CDC and government officials at a variety of levels about new protocols we would implement prior to a return to sailing,” the company said. “We will also be in discussions with officials in the destinations we visit.”

Carnival’s CEO recently said the company can last through 2020 with no revenue from cruises.

Royal Caribbean, the world’s second-largest cruise operator, has yet to make any public announcements about when it may return to service.

Uncertain future

The cruise industry dominated by those three names was left out of a $ 2.3-trillion US stimulus package for troubled companies as the major players are all incorporated outside the United States.

Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University’s College of Public Health, said she’s not sure how cruising can be done safely. Even with reduced capacity, she said, ventilation systems can still spread droplets through enclosed spaces.

“Everything would still have to be distanced,” she said. “Dancing, concerts on board, other types of entertainment? Doubtful. Pools? Probably overcrowded. Dining? No idea how they’d do it.”

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CBC | World News

Doctors, nurses demand government fill ‘unacceptable’ gaps in protective gear on front lines

Canada’s doctors and nurses are demanding that the federal government do more to protect front line workers against COVID-19, calling a critical lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) “outrageous and unacceptable.”

Organizations representing front line workers delivered a blunt warning Tuesday that lives are at stake, and pleaded for more transparency and urgent federal action during a virtual meeting of the House of Commons health committee. 

MPs on the committee are holding regular hearings via teleconference on the government’s response to COVID-19.

Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said Canada was caught flat-footed by the pandemic and now everyone is scrambling to ensure public health capacity can meet an expected surge in demand.

Calling it a “dark reality,” he said he’s hearing from physicians that the inadequate supply of surgical masks, N95 respirators, face shields, gowns and gloves is even more alarming than initially thought.

“The toll that is paid for this uncertainty weighs heavily on health care workers across the country,” he said. 

“They are scared. They are anxious. They feel betrayed. They don’t know what supplies are available.”

Buchman said he’s concerned about the problem of keeping enough doctors and other health professionals on the job, given the heightened threats they face of sickness and physical and mental burnout, and the risk they might refuse to work due to a lack of protective gear.

Physicians working in hospitals handling COVID-19 cases don’t know how long current supplies will last, and many are being asked to ration or re-use supplies, he said, adding that anxiety is heightened by a lack of information and transparency around inventories.

‘Lives are on the line’

“Asking health care workers to be on the front lines of this pandemic without the proper equipment is unacceptable. Shortages must be addressed immediately and information about supplies must be disseminated. People’s lives are on the line,”  he said.

“Would we expect a firefighter to enter a burning building, risking his or her life, without adequate protective equipment to keep them from harm? Physicians and other front line health care workers have a call to duty. They are willing to place themselves in harm’s way. But they have rights too – and that is their right to be protected when they put themselves at risk of harm.”

Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians also conveyed “disturbing” reports about shortages and rationing of protective equipment.

“The pandemic has not peaked and the virus will be with us for some time. We need to continue to build our supply and distribution chains coast to coast so all front line staff have the appropriate PPE to provide care safely,” he said. 

Preserving masks per shift

Drummond said “preservation” measures, such as limiting nurses to two masks per shift, might be considered rationing.

He also cautioned against “excessive anxiety” and said he hopes the government will deliver on its promise to deliver more protective gear and supplies.

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said she finds it “striking” that, just a few months ago, governments and managers deferred to the clinical and professional judgment of health care workers to decide what’s needed to keep patients and workers safe — yet now they’re “locking up personal protective equipment to keep it away from health care workers.”

“When faced with this level of uncertainty around a new coronavirus, especially around something so fundamental as how it spreads, we should start with the highest level of protection for health care workers – not the lowest,” she said.

“Front line workers across the country who are directly involved in the care of presumed and confirmed COVID-19 patients are not being provided with the PPE they need to do their jobs. That’s simply outrageous and unacceptable in a world-class health system like ours.”

Silas said that, since its inception in the wake of the SARS outbreak, the Public Health Agency of Canada has not made workplace safety a primary focus and has “failed over and over to consider and appropriately protect the health and safety of health care workers. “

She said the government should invoke the Emergencies Act to ensure supplies and equipment are deployed where needed across the country.

Buchman said he salutes the government’s call to enlist retired professionals and others to help in the battle against COVID-19, but he also warned that older people are at greater risk of experiencing severe symptoms if they become infected. He said that must be considered in the context of a shortage of PPE supplies.

“We do have to be careful about what we’re asking,” he said.

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CBC | Health News

Calls to distress lines climb amid increased anxiety over COVID-19

Crisis lines and mental health professionals are seeing a jump in calls as Canadians come to grips with the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly drastic measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus.

While some level of concern is both normal and healthy, experts say the risk of overreacting can lead to an inability to function, compulsive panic-buying or even self-harm.

“We’re experiencing a significant increase in calls,” Neta Gear, executive director for Distress and Crisis Ontario, said on Monday. “People are very anxious about what’s happening. People are feeling worried and scared.”

Increasingly, Canadians are being forced to cope with sudden disruptions more normally associated with wartime: Workers are being sent home; schools have closed; sports, entertainment and restaurant venues shut down; vacation plans shattered; and loved ones are stranded abroad.

In addition, those returning from out of the country, those who show symptoms or those who have had close contact with someone infected are being quarantined or asked to self-isolate for at least two weeks.


A woman walks along a nearly empty sidewalk in Montreal on Monday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Peter Selby, a clinician-scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said previous pandemics such as SARS in 2003 have tended to lead to an increase in mental-health issues and self-harming.

It’s critical people find supports, Selby said.

“Social isolation doesn’t mean emotional isolation,” said Selby. “Social isolation doesn’t mean lock yourself in your room and only watch TV and don’t talk to anybody.”

Selby advised limiting exposure to coronavirus-related news and especially to alarmist social media. People in isolation can get trapped watching the same news over and again, which can unnecessarily amplify fears, he said.

“Get information once in the day,” Selby said. “You need to reduce the amount of information coming in that is not necessarily productive or helpful.”

350% increase

At Kids Help Phone, which takes about 1,500 calls and texts a day, overall contacts have only begun to creep up. What has shifted dramatically is the content of the calls.

“We have seen about a 350 per cent increase in young people reaching out with fears related to COVID-19,” said Alisa Simon, senior vice-president at Kids Help Phone. “It really started ramping up in the middle of last week.”

Chris Summerville, chief executive officer with the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, said stress is a key factor in any type of mental-health relapse. The antidote is to engage in as much positive activity and thinking as possible.

“As much as is possible, express care, concern and love to one another,” Summerville said.


Shoppers at Superstore buy paper towel and toilet paper in Vancouver on March 2. Across the country, stores are seeing more panic-buying over COVID-19 fears. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Doing something positive can alleviate feelings of helplessness as the pandemic rages, experts advise. That could mean volunteering to become a crisis-line responder or engage in activities as simple as trying a new recipe or walking the dog.

For those in distress over COVID-19, experts say, it’s especially important to know they are not alone and help is available — even if by phone or text.

“You want to make sure that people who are having stress reactions or are getting suicidal get support right away,” Selby said.

In the interim, mental-health services are coping with their own issues of illness or self-isolation, even as workloads increase.

“We know that the anxiety levels are increasing,” Simon said. “We anticipate that we are going to see large surges in demand for our service as other services close their doors.”

Some resources for those in crisis:

  • Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645; 1-866-277-3553 (from Quebec).
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868.
  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310.
  • Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266.
  • eMentalHealth.ca.

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‘My name is Karly’: Sex trafficking victim joins police on front lines in battle against exploitation

Warning, this story contains graphic content that readers may find disturbing.

Karly Church, 31, escaped the dangerous world of domestic sex trafficking when a police officer found her in a hotel room, and her two traffickers were arrested.

Six years later, Church now works as a crisis intervention counsellor with Victim Services of Durham Region, east of Toronto. She also teams up with Durham Regional Police detectives in the field to help underage girls and young women caught up in the heinous crime.

“I want to instill hope,” Church says. “I want them to see that there is a way out, and there is the ability that they can reach any goal that they have for themselves. That you don’t have to be stuck, that there are people who care.”

Human trafficking is a fast-growing crime in Canada and one of the most difficult to beat.

According to Statistics Canada’s latest figures, reports of the “most serious violation” of laws around human trafficking soared from a couple of dozen across the country in 2010 to 340 in 2016.

StatsCan adds that, “human trafficking is difficult to measure, due in part to its hidden nature. While there has been an increase in the number of human trafficking incidents reported by police in recent years, human trafficking remains highly underreported.”

  • WATCH: The feature about police efforts to crack down on human trafficking, Tuesday Feb. 18 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.

The majority of reported cases are in Ontario, and 93 per cent of the victims are female. Approximately 72 per cent of female trafficking victims are under the age of 25, and can be as young as 12 years old.

And the conditions police find victims in can be horrific.


Det. Dave Davies, with the Durham Regional Police Service Human Trafficking Unit, says girls and women trapped in the sex trade are often subject to horrendous treatment. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“There are incidents with girls getting waterboarded, eating their own feces, being brutally raped,” says Detective Dave Davies, who runs the Durham Regional Police Human Trafficking Unit.

“The hardest ones are the ones that are young — the young ones that have never had sex before and they lose their virginity to some John, or they end up getting pregnant. Those are real scenarios that we’ve dealt with.”

The Durham Regional Police are one of the first in Canada to work directly with a human trafficking survivor, and they say Church is their secret weapon. With six detectives attached to the Human Trafficking Unit, most of them undercover, the police have nicknamed her Number Seven.

“She’s a part of our team,” says Detective Davies.


Church also works with Victim Services of Durham Region. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The collaboration between the Durham Regional Police Unit and Victims Services of Durham Region is about building relationships and trust with the victims. Church and Davies say it’s working.

Since Church got involved, the number of local police investigations has doubled and so has the number of victims she is supporting. In 2018, Victim Services of Durham Region helped 120 human trafficking victims, and in 2019 that jumped to 240.

Building trust

On a recent afternoon, Church and the detectives combed through online sex ads looking for clues leading to underage girls.

On any given day there can be anywhere from 30 to 100 new ads posted just in their region.

“You can see 22, 19, 22, they’re all different ages. We’re looking for younger looking females right now,” Detective Davies says.

“They can kind of give us clues to where they are. So, like, Westney Road, 401, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa. When it says ‘back in town,’ that means they were somewhere else,” he adds, a potential sign that they’re being trafficked.


Since Church started working with the Durham Regional Police Service Human Trafficking Unit, its number of investigations has doubled. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“Karly helps out and gives her opinion. We work together and try and find somebody, and go talk to them.”

Undercover detectives set up fake “dates” to try and meet up with the women at nearby hotels to make sure they aren’t underage, and also that they aren’t being forced into sex.

Often Church joins the offsite operations.

Detective Dave Davies, who runs the Durham Regional Police Human Trafficking Unit, describes Karly Church’s important role with his team. 0:22

Having identified an ad that concerns the team, they all head out the door of police headquarters and meet at a nearby hotel, where the first date has been set up for the day.

These hotel operations can be dangerous. Often, the pimps are nearby in adjoining rooms or even in the room’s own bathroom, and sometimes they’re armed.

After the detectives establish the room number, they enter and make sure the person and the situation is safe. Church and Davies stay back until they get they get the okay to come in.


Karly Church and police visit a hotel room to talk to a woman involved in the sex trade. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Church then works to build trust with the women.

“I think immediately if somebody comes to your door and identifies as police, it’s intimidating,” Church says. “Just because a lot of times it’s like, ‘what’s  going to happen to me?’ And there’s a bit of a panic.”

This time the woman in the room has been told about Church and wants to talk to her.

Most of them do. The woman isn’t underage, but she takes Church’s contact information.

The police meet at a nearby parking lot for a debrief. Church is happy with the outcome:

Karly Church describes what defines success in her daily work with the police and victims of human trafficking. 0:21

Community outreach

Durham Region has a trafficking coalition consisting of community workers and organizations. They’re trying to raise awareness to help discourage the crime, and they also help victims find the support they may need for addiction, housing, a bus pass and even food.

Raising awareness includes school outreach and education. Church does public service announcements to spread the word about things such as signs to look for that may indicate someone is being trafficked. She also speaks to Grade 8 and 9 students.

“My name’s Karly, I’m actually a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. I had a pimp and he forced me to work in the sex trade,” Church tells a group of students.

Karly was lured in by human traffickers at a time when she had nowhere to go. She’d left home, then been kicked out of a detox centre. Another girl who’d also left the detox centre persuaded Karly to go with her to a house, where she met the traffickers who drew her into the sex trade.


Church tells a classroom how she was recruited by a human trafficker, and describes some of the signs they can watch for to avoid being manipulated by predators. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

As the kids listen, she presents the facts on how it happened to her. She describes how traffickers prey on the most vulnerable, and can often disguise themselves as a boyfriend or someone who can be trusted.

“He is looking for someone who maybe is being bullied in school. He’s looking for someone who maybe doesn’t have that brand-name clothing or brand new iPhone,” says Church.

Karly’s presentation leaves the room silent.

What is most concerning is how many kids approach Church after her captivating presentations.

“In my experience, after every presentation I have ever done, someone has come up after and made a disclosure — either ‘this happened to me,’ or ‘I think this is happening to me,’ or ‘I know someone this is happening to.’ That’s in 36 schools,” says Church.


Besides her work with the police and outreach to schools, Church also helps women in Durham who have been trafficked and need support. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Kayla Yama is a clinical director of Victim Services for Durham Region, and coordinates the public presentations with Church.

She says public outreach helps reduce the stigma, encouraging people to speak up if they or someone they know is a target of sex trafficking.

Yama says there has been a “huge shift in terms of awareness” locally. She adds that it’s due largely to people “coming forward to Victim Services of Durham Region, coming forward to the community, coming forward to their parents — the bravery that it takes, it astounds me every day — and saying that this happened to me. It allows people not to overlook it and say this is something that couldn’t happen to my child.”

Back at police headquarters, Detective Davies says the program is a success, but his team wants to do more. He’s hopeful that in the near future the force can make that happen with some provincial funding. “It would help for sure.

“We have six detectives here. We have one Karly,” he says, adding that he’d like a “Number Eight” to join the team to help with Church’s growing workload.

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Workplace mental health programs deliver healthier bottom lines

Programs that promote good mental health at work aren’t just good for the people — they’re good for business, too.

A new analysis from Deloitte Insights, the research arm of accounting giant Deloitte, calculated the return on investment (ROI) of workplace mental health programs at various stages of maturity.

It found that for every $ 1 invested in workplace mental health, the median yearly return was $ 1.62, a figure that rises to $ 2.18 for programs that have been in place for three years or more.

To arrive at these findings released this week, the researchers examined 10 Canadian companies with established mental health programs or initiatives. The subjects were chosen to represent a variety of industries and locations across the country. Ultimately, data from seven were included in the calculations.

“Through our research we know that over 500,000 Canadian employees a week are unable to work due to poor mental health. The lost productivity there is enormous,” said report co-author Sarah Chapman, a director in Deloitte’s sustainability and social impact advisory practice.

We know inherently that investing in workplace mental health is good for our people, but this report tells us it’s actually good for business as well.— Sarah Chapman, Deloitte

The estimated economic cost of poor mental health in Canadian workplaces is $ 50 billion annually, not including an additional $ 6.3 billion in lost productivity, the report notes.

Although in recent years the stigma around mental illness has decreased and more companies have implemented mental wellness programs, research hadn’t yet quantified the bottom-line benefits, said Chapman, who holds a PhD in corporate social responsibility.


Sarah Chapman, who holds a PhD in corporate social responsibility, is a director in Deloitte’s sustainability and social impact advisory practice. She said the findings about workplace mental health programs showed even higher returns than expected. (Submitted by Deloitte)

“We know inherently that investing in workplace mental health is good for our people, but this report tells us it’s actually good for business as well.”

Proactive approach pays off

One of the key insights was that companies and employees are best served when employers go beyond just providing resources to treat problems when they arise, and instead invest in proactive programs that promote good mental health.

Those proactive steps could include working to reduce or eliminate major sources of stress particular to the job, or starting wellness initiatives that encourage staff to exercise or meditate. 

The report found that a good first step is to provide leadership with training on how to identify issues before they arise, said Chapman. Another was to put thoughtful return-to-work policies in place to ensure that people who have been absent for mental health reasons can successfully transition back, often by gradually building up to full-time hours.


Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of the non-profit Civic Action, said failing to establish proactive mental health programs will cost Canadian employers good talent. (Submitted by Civic Action)

In order for businesses to know whether their investments in mental health are having a positive impact, they should use data to establish a baseline from where they can measure progress, she said.

That could involve tracking the number of short- and long-term disability claims, measuring employee participation in new mental health services, tallying the number of leaders who receive training in mental health prevention as well as conducting employee engagement surveys.

Canada has voluntary guidelines called The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, known as the Standard. It was established in 2013 by the government-mandated Mental Health Commission of Canada as a framework to help organizations promote mental wellness and prevent psychological harm at work. 

Chapman said it’s important for employers to know they don’t have to “start from scratch” because the Standard outlines a step-by-step guide based on best practices. “Nor do you need to fully adopt the Standard in its entirety all at once. It’s an iterative process, and you can make incremental improvements over time.”

The report says that only one-third of Canadian employers have a mental health strategy.

‘People aren’t just employees’

Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of Civic Action, a non-profit organization that focuses on big urban challenges in the Greater Toronto Area, including workplace mental health, said mental illness and stress have been called “the second-hand smoke of this generation.”

“We are more stressed-out than any other generation that preceded us.” 

In addition to the tremendous price of treating mental illness when it arises, she said, failing to take the initiative on mental wellness will cost employers good talent. “Millennials as a generation are looking at mental health supports before they decide to sign on to work there.”

Companies like Starbucks, Manulife and Deloitte have increased the amount that employees and their dependents can spend on mental health, and that’s a big market differentiator in a war for talent, said Palvetzian.

Civic Action worked with experts in mental health at work to create a free online assessment tool called MindsMatter, based on the principles in the Standard.

Some things just make human sense and business sense. This is one of them.— Sevaun Palvetzian, Civic Action

Employers answer 12 questions, then receive an email with three action items for improving mental wellness at their places of business, along with resources for doing so.

“We need to appreciate that people aren’t just employees. They are also sons, mothers, sisters, children, and our mental health travels with us wherever we go, yet most of our waking hours are spent at work,” said Palvetzian.

“For us not to have our employers pay attention to this issue hits not only the workplace, but every other aspect of our life as well.”

Palvetzian she wasn’t surprised to see the Deloitte report establish a positive return on investment for mental health initiatives.

“Some things just make human sense and business sense. This is one of them.”

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‘ThursDATE’: Matthew Hussey Shares 3 First Date Lines That Slay (Exclusive)

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