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Emergency responses for a health workforce under pressure: Lessons learned from system responses to the first wave of the pandemic in Canada
  • Ivy Bourgeault,
  • Alison Coates,
  • Mara Mihailescu
Ivy Bourgeault
University of Ottawa

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Alison Coates
University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management
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Mara Mihailescu
University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine
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The global health workforce crisis, simmering for decades, was brought to a rolling boil by the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. With scarce literature, evidence, or best practices to draw from, countries around the world moved to flex their workforces to meet acute challenges of the pandemic, facing demands related to patient volume, patient acuity, and worker vulnerability and absenteeism. One early hypothesis suggested that the acute, short-term pandemic phase would be followed by several waves of resource demands extending over the longer term. However, as the acute phase of the pandemic abated, temporary workforce policies expired and others were repealed with a view of returning to “normal”. The workforce needs of subsequent phases of pandemic effects were largely ignored despite our new equilibrium resting nowhere near our pre-COVID baseline. In this paper, we describe Canada’s early pandemic workforce response. We report the results of an environmental scan of the early workforce strategies adopted in Canada during the first COVID wave of the COVID 19 pandemic. Within a three-part framework for supporting a sustainable health workforce, we describe 470 strategies and policies that aimed to increase the numbers and flexibility of health workers in Canada, and to maximise their continued availability to work. These strategies targeted all types of health workers and roles, enabling changes to the places health work is done, the way in which care is delivered, and the mechanisms by which it is regulated. Telehealth strategies and virtual care were the most prevalent, followed by role expansion, licensure flexibility, mental health supports for workers, and return to practice of retirees. We explore the degree to which these short-term, acute response strategies might be adapted or extended to support the evolving workforce’s long-term needs.
27 Jan 20241st Revision Received
27 Jan 2024Assigned to Editor
27 Jan 2024Submission Checks Completed
27 Jan 2024Reviewer(s) Assigned
27 Jan 2024Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
29 Jan 2024Editorial Decision: Accept
18 Feb 2024Published in The International Journal of Health Planning and Management. https://doi.org/10.1002/hpm.3778