Charitable sector essential during COVID-19 crisis, and beyond, but needs support

By Doug Roth

In the avalanche of news related to the unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19 and the resulting response from governments at all levels, we are facing a devastating consequence that many people might not be aware of — the decimation of the charitable health sector in Canada. A broad chorus of voices has appealed to the Prime Minister for urgent support.

On March 29th the Prime Minister acknowledged the plight of the charitable sector, stating “Not only are organizations in the charitable sector and the non-profit sector doing incredibly important work during difficult times, they’re also in many cases seeing their donations dry up and are very worried about their capacity to continue to do the work they’re doing.” Prime Minister Trudeau went on to announce support for some charities and indicated that assistance for the broader charity sector was forthcoming. The following day the Prime Minister clarified that charities will be included in a wage subsidy program.

This is a good start, but much more needs to be done to help charities help people in Canada at a particularly vulnerable time. In particular, charities feel their programs and research initiatives are also in need of support.

The reality is that the charitable sector, already under stress, is being hit by two destructive consequences of COVID-19: a tremendous blow to the ability of the health care sector to respond to people in need, and the economic disruption causing job losses in all areas of the economy. With the necessary restrictions of social distancing and protecting health, fundraising events are cancelled, and donations, which charities rely on for their operating budgets, have collapsed for many organizations.

It is now when the work of charities in the community is most important that it is also most at risk.

At Heart & Stroke, one of these areas is critical health research; we are the largest non-governmental funder of heart and brain health research in Canada. Every year, people in Canada invest $33 million in Heart & Stroke which goes to the pursuit of answers about how to prevent, diagnose, treat and recover from the devastating impacts of heart disease, stroke and vascular cognitive impairment.

We partner with Canada’s leading universities, research institutions, hospitals and community researchers to make those discoveries that lead to new knowledge of the fundamental biomedical science, new treatments, tests or interventions in clinical care and practice and solutions that improve health at the population level.

Because the risk for developing complications are higher for people with heart disease and stroke if infected with COVID-19, the time is ever more urgent to quickly enable research.

Our health system also needs capacity to respond.

Heart & Stroke is a leader in life support and CPR training, poised to assist retired doctors and nurses as they return to practice. Heart & Stroke is taking an active role by refreshing their resuscitation skills through our life support training programs. We are working closely with institutions to help create flexible learning approaches that ensure high-quality CPR can be delivered safely to patients in all settings.

Heart & Stroke also supports people living with heart disease and stroke and their caregivers by providing accurate, timely information across all our channels and building peer supports through our facilitated online communities. And as evidence emerges that smoking and vaping may worsen the effects of COVID-19, our decades of experience in smoking (and more recently vaping) prevention and cessation is even more necessary.

We are only one charity among many that are offering critical services at this important juncture.

The important role of all charities in healthy communities – during and after the pandemic – must not be forgotten.                 

Ontario’s Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips recently noted that in the response to COVID-19, “every dollar spent to save a job or save a life is a dollar well invested.” Investing in the charitable health sector would save both.

The charitable sector is calling on the federal government for a stabilization fund of $8 to $10 billion, comprised primarily of grants to non-profit organizations, to allow charities to continue our critical work in the face of an anticipated 30 per cent loss of income as a result of the current crisis.

The not-for-profit sector contributes over eight per cent of GDP and employs 2.4 million people in Canada. Charities are a vital part of the Canadian economy and part of the COVID-19 community solution to keeping everyone safe and healthy. 

We call on governments to include Canada’s charitable sector in their plans to stabilize and protect what is most important — the health and well-being of Canadians. 

Doug Roth is the Chief Executive Officer, Heart & Stroke.