From Frontlines to Homefront

President of the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland & Labrador Debbie Forward salutes essential workers and highlights the role we all play in flattening the Covid-curve


For many of us, time seems to stand still during this pandemic. Life goes on around us, albeit at a glacial pace, and we prod the inner sanctums of our brain for creative ways to pass the time. 

That’s for many, but for essential workers there is little time to indulge in binge watching and deep-diving into that dusty book you forgot you had from six Christmases past. 

Thank you!

Essential workers, from health care professionals to grocery workers, first responders, corrections officials, gas station attendants and more than we can name, continue to work tirelessly – some around the clock – to ensure we have the proper care, and necessities, to cope during this unprecedented time in our history.

And while many of us have the luxury – and I do call it luxury – to work remotely, these essential staffers are on the frontlines, risking their own health on a daily basis for each and every one of us. For that, they deserve more than a thank you. 

Debbie Forward, President of the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland & Labrador for over 24 years, understands the demands, both mentally and physically, that rest on the shoulders of all essential workers across the province. But it is on each and every one of us to do our part to flatten the curve across not only the province, but globally.

“With a pandemic, and a pandemic like this pandemic, every single person has a role,” Forward says. “In many crises that we face, everyone hasn’t had a role in this. But in this situation every single person makes a difference. So that’s why the physical distancing, the hand-washing, the staying at home does make a difference. If people would take that on and sort of sit back and think about that, how empowering is that as an individual? 

‘Be part of the solution’

“As I sit in my house here, I’m not really happy that I can’t go out. I can’t see people, can’t socialize, but I know what I’m doing is making a difference and could and will keep people alive. That is a tremendous responsibility that’s on every one of our shoulders. But if we all take it seriously then we can all be a positive part of the solution here and coming out of this in the best way possible.”

Forward explains that doing one’s part in this crisis, however small, could and should be seen as more of a privilege than a burden.

“It’s really almost like a privilege to be able to be part of the solution here and not just put all the weight on the people, especially health care providers,” she says. “And it’s not just health providers, but all essential services. They have a tremendous weight on their shoulders and that weight can be lifted by the actions that we do. That is pretty empowering to be able to have that power to lift pressure, lift stress, lift work, lift death off people’s shoulders.”

Forward pauses to reflect on displays of thanks and gratitude that have poured in in recent days and weeks for essential workers. From the ‘make some noise’ moments to plastering windows with rainbows and ‘thank you’ signs, the acknowledgments have not gone unnoticed. 

“As a representative of Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners on the frontlines, I just was overwhelmed with the amount of support for it, for all essential workers,” Forward shares. “And again, it’s about us all doing our bit, because that is a simple gesture of standing out on a step. It’s a simple gesture to say to people, ‘thank you for what you’re doing,’ to be nice to people, to be respectful to those people who are having to go to work and provide essential services. And it might not feel like much, but it means a lot because they need to feel that support, that acknowledgment of what they’re doing. It helps them get through their anxiety and their fear and to be appreciated. And we all need that.

“We have to do it all the time in terms of saying thank you when we come in contact with an essential worker. I think it would be great to show that appreciation and continue those symbols as we continue on in this because anxiety for these people isn’t decreasing. It’s increasing. And certainly for health care providers. They’re right in the middle of it as we’re running away from the fire. They’re having to work within the fire because people are sick and they want to have to provide care and they’re afraid too.”

A little good news

As we move through this crisis together as a province, nation, and even globally, Forward expresses the need for a little good news amidst the potential barrage of bleakness. 

“There is always good that comes from bad, and I think if we’re going to get through this pandemic, we do have to acknowledge the positives,” Forward says. “We tend to focus on the negatives. We tend to focus on the number of people who are sick, the number of people hospitalized, and talk about the number of deaths, whether it be in our province or across the country. But we do need to acknowledge and talk about the number of people who have recovered, the number of people who have gotten well, the number of people that we’ve tested and all have been positive. Our good practices are working. 

“I do think with social media now, we have to distance ourselves from some of those negative stories that are out there, stay really focused on where we are, what we can do as an individual to make a difference and not get too overwhelmed by all of the negative stories that are out there that, yes, are very scary and evoke anxiety and fear in us. And a little bit of that is a good thing. 

“But we have to be careful not to overwhelm ourselves with that because, mental health is so important as we go through this challenging time as well. And it’s really important for our citizens, but it’s particularly important for the people who are on the frontline, who are providing essential services, making sure that we collectively support their mental health in any way we can.”

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