September 2020

Our COVID-19 story: how CNO responded to the pandemic

When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, many organizations and individuals had to make quick decisions under circumstances that have never existed before. As a nursing regulator, our purpose to protect the public by promoting safe nursing practice began to unfold in new ways as the system mobilized to respond to the pandemic.

For the safety of staff and the public, we closed our office building as soon as Ontario declared a state of emergency on March 17, and staff began working from home. We already had an established teleworking environment and a pandemic plan, so this move was relatively seamless.

For application processes that relied on mail delivery, we quickly implemented online solutions, such as online forms, electronic faxing and we encouraged people to send us documents by email instead of paper mail.  

Knowing this global pandemic could increase the demand for nursing care, we immediately began inviting recently resigned and eligible Non-Practising class nurses to reinstate their registration with CNO. We quickly made upgrades to our online application portal to allow these nurses to bypass payment, because we waived the reinstatement fee during the emergency.

We also began planning for a solution that would allow us to quickly and safely register a wider range of qualified nurses to support Ontario’s health care system. The answer was enacting the Emergency Assignment Class (EAC), ­a special class of registration designed under legislation to expedite short term registration of nurses during an unprecedented crisis, such as a pandemic.

For the first time ever, we enacted the EAC on March 23, 2020 for the sole purpose of allowing qualified nurses to help during the pandemic. This included:

  • New Ontario nursing program graduates

  • Nurses who had moved into Non-Practicing Class or who had resigned less than 3 years ago

  • Nurses registered and working in other Canadian provinces or U.S. states

  • Internationally educated nurses who met specific criteria

Between March 23 and July 31, we registered 815 nurses in the Emergency Assignment Class who worked in a variety of practice settings, including hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes, community and public health units. We also registered 1,900 new nurses in the General and Extended Class during the same period, which gave additional support to the health care system.

As Ontario moved into Stage 3 of the pandemic, and it became apparent that the health system was managing the pandemic well without the need for a special class of nurses CNO prepared to end the EAC. Nurses registered in the EAC and their employers were given ample notice about the termination of this class and given the option to apply for the General Class or the Temporary Class if they wished to continue practising nursing in Ontario. On Aug. 4, the EAC came to an end. However, if a need arises in the future, CNO can re-enact the EAC at the government’s request.

We wish to extend a big thank you to all of you who continue to respond to this global pandemic and support the province’s health care system! 

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