LONDON - Read my letter calling on Minister Elliott to work with local partners to immediately expand testing capacity in London.
"Dear Minister Elliott:
I am writing on behalf of Londoners, in particular the residents of Oakridge in my riding of London West, to reiterate my urgent concerns about access to London’s COVID-19 Assessment Centres. I have twice raised these issues in the Ontario Legislature, in a question on September 16 and in a statement on September 21.
The Oakridge Assessment Centre opened on March 16 and is one of two dedicated assessment centres in London. The centre originally operated seven days a week from 11am to 7pm but was closed on weekends in early April. On June 8, hours of operation changed to 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. London’s second assessment centre opened on March 19 at the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre and continues to operate seven days a week from 11am to 7pm.
The Oakridge Assessment Centre is located in the Oakridge Arena directly across the street from an elementary school and within a kilometre of two other elementary schools. A rapid surge in demand for COVID testing is creating traffic nightmares in this quiet residential area, with hundreds of cars lining the streets, often as early as 6:30am. It has also created significant safety hazards for students walking to and from school, and made it difficult for school buses turning into school parking lots and for parent drop-off and pick-up by car. Residents fear that it is only a matter of time before a child is seriously injured. In addition to these very real safety risks, Oakridge residents are understandably upset about frequent traffic jams, blocked laneways, littering, trespassing on private property and damage to greenery.
As well as concerns specific to Oakridge, I have heard from many constituents who are frustrated and angry about long waits for testing at both London Assessment Centres. Londoners are taking vacation days to wait hours for tests for themselves or their children, and vulnerable people are being put at unnecessary risk by being forced to stand in line, including cancer patients who require testing for their surgery, and essential caregivers who must be tested to care for their loved ones. As you are well aware, Minister, the testing protocols for schools and child care centres, the arrival of flu season, and the onset of the second wave mean that demands for testing will escalate rapidly.
With rising case counts and clear evidence of community spread, it is more critical than ever that Londoners have timely access to COVID tests, especially if they are symptomatic. Yet both the Oakridge and Carling Heights Assessment Centres are frequently reaching capacity by mid-day, and Londoners seeking a COVID test are being turned away. To address these pressures, additional testing sites have been established on the campuses of both Western University and Fanshawe College, and plans are in place to pre-book appointments for priority groups at the Oakridge and Carling Heights Assessment Centres. At the same time, there is an urgent and unquestionable need for enhanced testing capacity in London.
Minister, an April 8 Memo to Health System Partners from the CEO of Ontario Health states:
Decisions regarding assessment centres are made at Regional tables, in co-ordination with local health system partners – including local public health units – based on local needs. Regional partners determine if additional assessment centres are needed, or if current processes can be adapted, based on local needs.
While I certainly agree with the importance of regional decision-making that responds to local needs, the ability to open additional centres, relocate existing centres, or extend hours of operation requires resources, both financial and staffing, as well as the leadership of properly-funded public health units.
As Minister, you are accountable for making those resources available and I call on you to work with local partners to immediately expand testing capacity in London. The health and safety of Londoners relies on your commitment to addressing these issues now.
Peggy Sattler, MPP