The change that has taken place in the world over the last 3 months is unprecedented. The migration of the COVID-19 virus around the world is impacting all aspects of our lives, including how we are operating here at the hospital.
Over the last three weeks, the operation of SBGHC has changed considerably. We are still providing care to the people we serve, but we have made significant changes to ensure that we can continue to deliver care throughout the duration of the COVID-19 situation.
Our hospital is remarkably quiet right now. Our patient occupancy levels and emergency department volumes are at some of the lowest levels we have ever seen. It is important to note that these low levels are planned and intentional – we have taken action to move patients out of the hospital into long-term care and home, working with families as we work to free up space and capacity for the influx of patients that will come as a greater proportion of the population is impacted by COVID-19.
I have spoken with many of you over the last few weeks – many of you have told me you feel worried, anxious and even a bit scared. Most of you talk about this “unsettled” feeling not knowing what is ahead. And I would be lying if I said I did not also have this unsettled feeling. And many of you have asked if this is “the calm before the storm”?
I do not know exactly how the virus will hit our communities, or the magnitude of its impact, but my commitment to you is that we are taking all necessary steps to prepare for the arrival of the virus.
Even though our occupancy and emergency department volumes are down, a large number of staff are working long days and nights to prepare for the arrival of COVID-19. I want to thank all of our staff and physicians for your efforts over the last two months as we prepare to respond to the pandemic. I am astounded at what has been accomplished in the last 3 weeks.
Some of the changes we have implemented include:
- Controlling access into and out of the hospital – restricting visitors, and ensuring all patients entering the hospital are screened for symptoms, recent travel history and contacts;
- Separating our Emergency Department waiting rooms – to create designated waiting spaces for patients presenting with respiratory symptoms, to ensure the separation of people with and without respiratory symptoms;
- Cleaning and creating space across all four sites for the care of infected COVID-19 patients;
- Enhanced cleaning protocols – we now have housekeeping staff working 24 hours a day in Walkerton and Kincardine, and have brought in additional Housekeeping Aides to support our valuable Housekeeping staff;
- Self-screening of staff for symptoms before entering our buildings each day – staff who have travelled outside of Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days, and monitor for symptoms in conjunction with Occupational Health and Safety;
- Development of an Assessment Centre at our Kincardine site – the Assessment Centre is helping to expand hospital capacity to assess and screen patients who have symptoms of COVID-19, freeing up emergency department resources. With the contributions from our partners at the Brockton Area and Kincardine Family Health team, Kincardine physicians, and our own SBGHC team, the Assessment Centre has been a great success. As the volume of visitors to the Centre level out, we will be modifying the hours of operation to better reflect usage;
- Increasing our bed capacity – as noted earlier, working with families, LHIN discharge planners and long-term care homes, we have taken steps to discharge as many patients as possible to create capacity in the hospital. We are also reviewing non-traditional patient care areas that can be used care for additional patients. For those of you who worked here 20 years ago, you will know that our four buildings held over 180 beds in 1998, and we are now looking at ways to maximize space in our buildings should it be needed;
- Our Incident Management System (IMS) team continues to meet 7 days a week, and includes all of senior leadership, infection control, housekeeping, physician leadership, and representative from the Family Health Team.
And there is more to do. We are working internally, and with our hospital partners, on a plan for the care and movement of critically ill patients – we are also developing contingency plans for all of our programs and services should the hospital be operating at greater than maximum capacity, and if a portion of our workforce is impacted by the virus.
To ensure coordination of our efforts, we are meeting daily with the 19 hospitals across the South West LHIN, and meeting twice per week with our hospital, EMS, and Public Health partners here in Grey Bruce. We have also begun to meet regularly with the long-term care homes in the communities served by SBGHC and the Hanover Hospital.
I also need to give a shout-out to our physicians. We have had great physician leadership around our IMS table from Dr. Lisa Roth and Dr. Lindsay Bowman, and more recently from Dr. Leanne Thomson – and I know physicians at all four of our sites are now actively preparing plans for the care of patients in their communities during the COVID-19 situation.
The prevalence of COVID-19 can be found on the Grey Bruce Health Unit website. As of yesterday, the Health Unit has reported 6 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our region, and 191 negative test results. So, we are not there yet, but we are expecting the situation to escalate in the coming weeks with March break travelers, and snow birds returning to the area.
One the challenges facing the entire health care system is the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Every jurisdiction is attempting to secure gloves, masks, gowns, face-shields and goggles. The 19 hospitals across the South West LHIN have banded together to bolster our efforts in securing the PPE which is required – this approach increases our ability to secure the equipment that we need. In addition, SBGHC has received generous contributions of PPE from partners in our community including Bruce Power and the Walkerton Clean Water Centre.
As all of you are aware, Health Care workers are selfless – always putting the patient ahead of themselves. During this time, I would ask all of you to stop and first think of yourself before jumping into a situation to care for a patient. Please remember to use the proper PPE before caring for an infected patient. Our most precious resource is you – and we need all of you to stay healthy during this time.
To ensure our staff and physicians stay informed, and have their questions answered, we are holding a staff town hall teleconference on Friday, March 27th at 10:00am to provide an update on the hospital’s response, which will include a Clinical Q&A with our CNE Angela Stanley, and Drs. Lisa Roth and Lindsay Bowman. I intend to schedule several more of these forums in the coming weeks to keep you informed, and more importantly, answer your questions.
Walking into the hospital this morning, I heard the birds singing merrily – this small signal lifted my spirits, and gave me assurance that we will get through this challenging time, and that more positive times are ahead.
Thank you again for your important role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring that we can continue to provide care to our communities when they need us the most. As always, please do not hesitate to speak to your leader or to me directly if you have any questions or concerns.