Vancouver Sun

Charitable sector essential during COVID-19 crisis

More must be done to help non-profits, Doug Roth says.

- Doug Roth is the chief executive officer of Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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 29, 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.” He 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 healthcare 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 and 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 and Stroke, which goes to the pursuit of answers about how to prevent, diagnose, treat and recover from 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.

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

Heart and Stroke is a leader in life-support and CPR training, poised to assist retired doctors and nurses as they return to practice. Heart and 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 in all settings.

Heart and Stroke also supports people living with heart disease and stroke and their caregivers by providing accurate, timely informatio­n across all our channels. 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 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 up 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.

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

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.

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