As January 2020 rolled in and the first reports of COVID-19 started circulating from abroad, hospitals across Canada started planning, knowing it was just a matter of time before this new and highly contagious coronavirus arrived on their doorsteps.
On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the novel coronavirus was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. At the time there were fewer than 100 cases of the disease we now call COVID-19. Just a week earlier, we had issued our first communication to staff introducing the coronavirus, and preparations at MAHC were well underway when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.
In the days and weeks that followed, there was a whirlwind of activity as we worked quickly and efficiently to roll out the many Ministry of Health directives put in place to assist hospitals in creating capacity to deal with a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. Non-urgent and elective procedures and many ambulatory services ramped down while our Emergency Departments remained open. Screening for travel and symptoms was introduced for both patients and staff. Cleaning and disinfection practices were enhanced, isolation needs soared, and spaces were converted to prepare for what may come. Personal Protective Equipment was a concern in the early days as supply into the country and flow through to hospitals failed to keep up with demand. On March 25, we cared for our first inpatient with COVID-19. In April, more cases followed requiring inpatient care. To date, 16 people with COVID-19 have received inpatient medical care at MAHC; sadly, two succumbed. Others have received care in our Emergency Departments and discharged home to isolate.
Reflecting on the past year, different emotions come to bear for anyone working in health care. Many are sadly grim. By definition novel means new, and in health care novel rightly evokes fear. As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic draws near, I am reminded that in those early days and still today, our staff and credentialed staff show up and provide exceptional care in the face of an ongoing health crisis mired with uncertainty. Our Muskoka and East Parry Sound communities are fortunate to have such a dedicated team at their community hospitals. Through the challenges and uncertainty, we at MAHC have learned more about our adaptability, our individual commitment as health care workers and overall resolve as an organization to come together as a team to look after our communities’ needs in a year like no other.
While each of us will have different perspectives on COVID-19, the optimist in me feels privileged, proud and confident to lead such a tremendous team of professionals. I can’t say enough about the amazing efforts of our people – taking care of patients and their families, and caring for each other with immense respect for their fellow team member’s valuable contributions to our collective response.
Today in Simcoe Muskoka the threat of COVID-19 variants of concern oblige us to stay vigilant by following all public health measures to reduce the risk of exposure and protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Instead of continuing to look back on a year that has challenged us in an unprecedented way, I am looking forward with hope on the horizon as COVID-19 vaccines reach more arms. Many of our staff and credentialed staff are eligible for immunization, and more than half of our team has received both doses. They tell me it’s a humbling moment and one they are grateful for, but still acknowledge that regardless of vaccination it is critical to continue to follow all protection measures to avoid the potential of a third wave of this pandemic.