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IFA Virtual Town Hall Chat Summary 14 August 2020

The following chat summary is from the IFA Virtual Town Hall on 14 August 2020 with Ms. Soosmita Sinha.
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Speaker Biography

Ms. Soosmita Sinha is the Founder and President of the Health Law Institute, Geneva, Switzerland.  She holds a pharmacy degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria and a JD from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA and is currently licensed as both a pharmacist and lawyer in Michigan, USA.  Her professional experience spans both public and private sectors in different geographical locations – Nigeria, United States and the United Nations in Geneva.  She has lived in four different continents, speaks multiple languages and is passionate about health worker rights, universal access to healthcare, and advocates health workers as key actors in health system strengthening.



Employment Policies

  • Fixed retirement age policies place too much importance on chronological age rather than biological age and overlook the fact that health care workers may want to work past the age of 65 years.
  • In the current COVID-19 climate many low- and middle-income countries may not be equipped financially to support early retirement for health workers with full pension.
  • Multi-generational workforces which adopt an enabling environment for older health care workers benefit from increased diversity and experience sharing.
  • Technology may not always feature prominently among the skills, experience and wisdom of older healthcare workers, however modifying employment practices may maximize the intrinsic skills of older employees and improve the patient experience.
  • Is there an evidence base that speaks to the role and contribution of older workers that can support efforts to attract and retain older employees?


Public Perceptions of Older Workers

  • In Australia, media attention of health workers affected negatively by COVID-19 focuses mainly on young health workers and the contribution of older health workers is overlooked.
  • In the United States there are also more media stories about the deaths of young healthcare workers rather than about older workers who have returned to the health workforce post-retirement.
  • In many low-income countries there is discrimination against frontline healthcare workers.
  • Where discrimination against healthcare workers has been observed, it has been linked to public fear of clinical settings. Public health messages that shift the focus to the expertise of employees (e.g. skills in infection prevention and control) have been effective in reducing discrimination and supporting health professionals.
  • Clear communication is important in overcoming negative public perceptions of healthcare settings and staff.
  • There are different interpretations of age discrimination under EU law as evidenced by mixed outcomes in case judgments. In some cases, age discrimination has been justified as an appropriate means of achieving organizational objectives.


Health Professional Guidance

  • Does the International Labour Organization liaise with the World Health Organization regarding age-friendly work environments?
  • How can healthcare workers be best supported and / or encouraged to vaccinate against infectious diseases such as influenza and possibly COVID-19 in future to protect patients with which they are in contact?
  • In Ontario, Canada the Late Career Nursing Initiative (LCNI) was cancelled after an evaluation that demonstrated mixed outcomes, with important implications and limitations.  Intentional planning around the roles for late career health professionals is needed to help optimize their contribution, however the short duration and limited exposure to the LCNI are likely to hamper prospective benefits.
  • Guidance and ongoing communication around contact tracing processes is essential for front line healthcare workers in home care settings.
  • In Toronto, Canada, hospitals are consulting with home care agencies regarding protocols of healthcare workers in the community in order to support the patient experience.



  • In this time of accelerated change and workplace pressures, how are leaders in the healthcare sector addressing the needs of caregiving professionals and ensuring the sector is able to attract and retain health workers?
  • Are “informal” caregivers considered healthcare “professionals” and captured in studies on the older health workforce as such?
  • Caregivers comprise a range of healthcare professionals including nurses, personal support workers, cleaners, and family members. All of these stakeholders inform and support a patient’s treatment and long-term care plan.
  • Older healthcare workers often experience a double burden of providing care in professional and personal capacities. In the current COVID-19 environment, employers must recognize and respond to the fact that there is a greater workplace risk to healthcare workers and by extention their families.
  • Familial caregiving should not be considered “informal” even if it is unpaid.
  • In Canada, “informal” caregivers, home care workers and personal support workers do not have many of the legal workplace protections of a registered profession.




Suggested Reading List

The WHO publication based on the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth


Health Workforce:


Effects of COVID:


Good Practices:


Roles of Returning Health Workers:


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