COVID-19 pandemic response: St. John’s Collaborative physicians speak out

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The Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) has changed and continues to change everyday realities globally. In response to the rapidly spreading highly infectious virus that has seen hundred of deaths across Canada and thousand more globally, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (like many others) declared a public health state of emergency. In the face of this, other underlying issues seem to be brewing.

In a letter addressed to Honourable Lisa Dempster, NL’s Minister for Children, Seniors and Social Development (CSSD), a group known as the ‘Downtown Healthcare Collaborative Physicians’ has expressed concern about the conduct of the department of children, seniors and social development in the face of the Covid-19 public health state of emergency in NL.

Writing in their capacity as an initiative run in collaboration with the government to address health equity of vulnerable people, the physicians decried the current suspension of parental visits to children in foster care and group homes. In the letter, the physicians acknowledged the alternative provided, which is virtual socialisation, which is not feasible given that most of these parents cannot readily access the technology needed (smart phones, tablets, internet access).

The implications of these decisions, which in the word of the physicians “are serious and complex, with potential short- and long-term consequences for physical and mental health of children and families” could potentially exacerbate desperation and hopelessness among the already vulnerable parent group. The physicians fear that the aftermath of this decision will be increase in “relapse to substance abuse, unsafe coping mechanisms and high-risk behaviours including suicidal ideation”.

The physicians are also concerned about long-term effects of this ‘trauma’, which could potentially affect the mental, physical, intellectual, emotional and social well-being of the affected children. According to the physicians, secure attachments for infants and older children is reliant on non-verbal means of communication, quality time spent together and “in-the-moment experiences” which “absolutely cannot be replicated over the phone or through video-conference”. Furthermore, the group of physicians stated in their letter that “this complete and indefinite separation is contributing to a pattern that can dramatically impact the long-term development and wellbeing of these children as well as their parents”.

In the view of the physicians, this current policy of the separating parents from children at this time “is a form of institutional abuse and a human rights violations”, with overall ramifications that “simply cannot be ignored”. Thus, the Downtown healthcare collaborative physicians are “urgently requesting” immediate reinstatement of the parental visits for their children in foster care and group homes. They also suggested alternatives in lieu of this current policy, but with the same overall effect of preventing community spread of COVID-19 to young and vulnerable children and adults.

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