Healthcare workers need better care
Like SARS, COVID-19 disproportionately affects health professionals Recall that 44% of Toronto SARS infections were in this group. In China, 3000 health workers were infected with COVID-19 and 22 died. In Spain, 15,000 health workers are affected, or 14% of cases. In Italy 11,000 health workers are positive for the virus and 73 MDs have died. In Montreal, it has affected 121 health workers.
Health professionals need a supply of personal protective equipment, expedited test results for COVID-19, prompt licensure and assurance of full malpractice insurance - covered by government - plus death and disability benefits.
For physicians out-of-practice for three years or less, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and BC offer temporary licenses to previously-retired MDs at no cost.
In Ontario, physicians are charged $345 for a 30-day supervised license. For an Independent Practice Certificate, MDs must pay $1,045 for the application fee and then an annual membership fee of $,725. Those over 70 have been advised by full-page newspaper notices to self-isolate at home. This is 7.5% of MDs in Ontario. Health professionals, especially older ones called out of retirement, need disability and death benefits, for most cannot qualify for adequate private insurance.
Many surgeons, palliative care and house-call MDs, and other physician and internists have seen marked drops in income. Their disability insurance would not cover them. Older physicians do not qualify for such insurance, and find life insurance unaffordable. In June 2003, Ontario agreed to the “SARS Income Stabilization Program.” $190 million was paid to physicians, nurses, and paramedics. On April 1, 2020, the President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association announced a policy for compensating MDs during the pandemic.
Physicians in Quebec and across Canada should demand a similar program. In addition, there should be government-funded life insurance – at least for MDs, nurses, and respiratory therapists over 65 who succumb to COVID-19. The coronavirus is vastly more lethal than SARS, and the health and economic disruptions will last for many months, so this will be costly.
Financial support for health professionals is needed now. Ottawa should bear most of the cost. Bill Morneau recently pledged, “We have not put a cap on what we might need to solve the problem.”
Charles S. Shaver, MD