Thursday, 25 February 2021

Looking forward after one year with COVID-19

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.

Monday, 7 December 2020

Gratitude to Hospital Staff Looks Different This Holiday Season

The recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Simcoe County and in the District of Muskoka as the holiday season nears is alarming. It’s also important to recognize that COVID positive cases in Muskoka are likely higher than what is being reported locally when cases are attributed to and counted in another health unit within the province. A surge in cases has the potential to also impact bed capacity within the hospitals and our ability to maintain the provision of outpatient services, such as scheduled surgery and procedures.

As we watch the numbers grow everywhere, we must pause and reconsider traditional holiday approaches. Regardless of a pandemic, the holiday season is a time for giving. Over the years many of our staff and/or their departments have been on the receiving end of tremendous acts of gratitude during the festive season.

Thoughtful gifts to say thank you like boxes of chocolates or Christmas baking warm our hearts and mean a lot to our team members, but they also carry a level of risk to our staff and physicians that is not advisable, and can ultimately potentially hinder our ability to provide high-quality care to you or your loved ones when needed.

Gift baskets for example, similar to boxes of chocolates, typically contain items that are intended for sharing, which results in multiple sets of hands touching products. This has the potential to increase the risk of sharing germs that make people sick. It’s not just the COVID-19 virus we have to worry about, but also seasonal influenza and gastrointestinal illness that can easily spread from person to person if we let our guard down to risk.

The safety and wellbeing of our team members is a priority for our hospitals, and therefore we regret our staff are unable to accept homemade prepared food such as Christmas baking and shareable items in gift baskets this holiday season. We hope you can understand why this is necessary.

We are truly touched that grateful patients and/or their caregivers want to show their appreciation this holiday season. Perhaps the best way you can show our team your love is to give the gift of better local health care by supporting our Foundations that work tirelessly to raise money for our much-needed capital equipment and technology needs.

Both of our Foundations have specific giving programs that allow you to honour a hospital hero by making a tribute gift in their honour. We encourage you to consider gratitude in the form of a donation to your hospital hero:

Huntsville Hospital Foundation “Hospital Heroes” giving program:  https://huntsvillehospitalfoundation.ca/heroes/

South Muskoka Hospital Foundation “Health Care Heroes” giving program: www.healthmuskoka.ca/givetoday

This holiday season, the MAHC organization has also ensured gratitude is shown to our staff and physicians for their dedication and hard work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of being able to hold a Christmas Dinner & Dance, the Team Building Committee, with the additional support of the Joint Credentialed Staff Association and the MAHC Christmas Party Committee, have organized the “12 Days of MAHC-Mas” events, including a $5 “downtown dollars” voucher for Huntsville or Bracebridge to support local business and encourage each team member to stay local, shop local.

On behalf of the MAHC team, I also want to offer my deepest appreciation to our communities for your unwavering support in 2020. Season’s greetings from my family to yours and best wishes for a safe holiday season and a prosperous and healthy New Year.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Take it from Us and Do Your Part to #StopTheSpread

Earlier this year, our collective sacrifices helped flatten the curve of COVID-19. But the growing case count is a warning that our hard-won progress is slipping away. Our collective commitment to containing the virus is particularly critical given the steep increase in daily positive cases, growing number of hospitalizations and limited acute care capacity. Each of us once again needs to do our part and work together to help fight the second wave. Now more than ever we need to follow public health measures and make appropriate decisions for our own safety and the safety of others, especially those most vulnerable.

For months now our health care teams at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare have been working tirelessly on the front lines to keep our patients and our greater communities safe. With lived experience they see the pandemic through different eyes. Through this month’s blog, we are raising awareness of the need for everyone to be ‘COVID-conscious’ and play an active part in preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Many have come forward to share the everyday practical choices they’re making and decisions they have made personally to protect others from COVID-19. They challenge you to join them in taking the pledge to #StoptheSpread.

Rebecca, a Registered Practical Nurse tells us, “all public health measures have been followed. We are trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 by keeping social circles small, limiting exposure by not going to restaurants or making unnecessary shopping trips, and by wearing masks when social distancing is not an option.”

Mary Ellen from the Laboratory says, “My family followed Ontario Public Health guidelines when my father who was in long-term care passed away in August during COVID-19. We had to limit the number of people who could attend the funeral mass and they had to submit their names and be put on a list and be placed in fixed seating spaces. No hugging was allowed and physical distancing was followed. Every person who attended was required to wear a mask or face covering.”

Dr. John Simpson tells us: “Deciding not to spend time with any family this Thanksgiving was a really tough decision – one our family made this year to help #StoptheSpread. An extended family video chat and a 'Thanksgiving Trivia Challenge' proved to be a lot of fun instead and may become a yearly tradition too. My little sister even sent a Tim Hortons card
to the winner! Yah! Video chats, online trivia and silly online games with friends, and sharing funny texts and messages with family and friends has helped keep my teens and my family connected! Donning a fun scrub cap along with our daily mask and outfit at work helps to lighten the mood of our new work reality. It also reminds others to be careful with everything we touch, sanitize and wash our hands lots, and to transition to clean clothes with any transition away from work. The fun caps have helped the 'not so great hairdos' of COVID as well. It’s fun being 'corn head', 'brain boy', 'carrot top'... you get the idea. Helping to #StoptheSpread is a great message to pass on and constantly challenge us all! Join with mine and yours!”

Liz in Administration says, “Zoom is in! Visits with friends and family outside of my bubble are out! There’s a part of me that still can’t fathom this is happening. I miss the spontaneity of life. I’ve had to adapt to new ways of creating meaningful times while keeping myself and others safe. It’s been a tough ride but I know if we all do our part we can curtail the second wave. Nature has become my solace.”

Adrienne, a Ward Clerk, explains: “I avoid high-risk activities such as non-essential travel, dining out, going to the movies, going to the gym and getting my hair cut.”

Allison, an Executive Assistant says, “I subscribe to a workout app so that I can exercise in the comfort and safety of my own home. I do my workouts virtually to protect my friends and family. It is important for all of us to take the time for ourselves each day to stay healthy physically and mentally during these stressful and anxious times.”

Dr. Jennifer Macmillan shares: “I have been consistently wearing a mask in all public spaces, at work and in the community. I perform hand hygiene prior to and following every patient assessment. We have converted our hospital committee meeting to a Zoom meeting monthly. We have converted the annual general meeting of the Ontario Association of General Surgeons to a virtual meeting. I strongly encourage my teenagers to be compliant with mask wearing and with hand hygiene every day, not just in school. I have spoken with them about the importance of these measures. Even if they think they will not become ill from COVID-19, they put the whole family at risk (including grandparents), and they compromise my ability to work, which also has significant implications for the patients in our community as well as the nursing staff at the hospital.”

Nurses Lesley-Anne, Kathy and Angela tell us: “Outside of work and inside work we social distance!”

Dr. Kristen Jones explains: “I wear a mask every day, carry hand wash in my purse/car/pocket and minimize the number of people I see in person. There are a lot more phone calls and Zoom calls. My family has cancelled many gatherings including Easter, August long weekend and Thanksgiving. We stay in more often so we have been playing lots of board games!”

Our health care heroes continue to be vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 and remain committed to #StopTheSpread of the virus, and more stories will be featured on our Facebook page (follow us @MAHCHospitals). Together, we encourage our communities to re-commit to following strict public health measures, such as wearing a face covering, frequent handwashing, physical distancing and limiting personal contact.

You, too, can take the pledge to #StoptheSpread by visiting www.ontariocovidpledge.ca.

Friday, 4 September 2020

MAHC COVID-19 Assessment Centre Update

I have taken to my blog to clarify and correct misinformation circulating in the community to foster a greater understanding of the COVID-19 assessment centre situation in Muskoka. I want to emphasize that the hospital’s core mandate is to provide emergency and acute care services at two hospital sites. Hospital operations have been significantly impacted during the COVID19 pandemic as has our staffing requirements. We must continue to ensure emergency and acute care services are protected and available and meet the communities’ needs in the pandemic while following provincial direction, and ensuring our staff and physicians are safe and supported. I want to thank the many community members who have shown tremendous support to their hospitals during these difficult and challenging times.

The fact is that MAHC has not been responsible for the operations of the COVID-19 assessment centres in Huntsville and Bracebridge since they opened on April 1, 2020. The Huntsville centre had been staffed and operated by the Algonquin Family Health Team and the Bracebridge centre had been staffed and operated by the Cottage Country Family Health Team. Unfortunately, the Family Health Teams were no longer able to provide this public health service in Huntsville due to their own operational challenges. As a result, they gave notice that they were closing the assessment centres effective August 28, 2020. This information was shared verbally during our regular political leader meeting and in writing on August 11, 2020. 

MAHC has been a community partner supporting community testing alongside many providers since the beginning of the pandemic. We offered space on an interim basis for the Huntsville assessment centre to function in space that on April 1 was not being used by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) due to school closure. School has since resumed and this year’s Community Clerkship medical students have arrived in Muskoka so NOSM has reclaimed its space. 

Given the Family Health Teams were closing the assessment centres, and in the absence of other willing and able parties, MAHC stepped up to provide this public health service in Muskoka on hospital property at the South Muskoka site as it had an appropriate standalone outbuilding that could be retrofitted. 

To make an appointment for a COVID-19 test at MAHC's Assessment Centre in Bracebridge, call 1-888-383-7009. For more information, visit www.mahc.ca/COVID-19Testing/

As services paused at the beginning of the pandemic have ramped back up in the hospitals, and there is a requirement to physically distance, unfortunately there is not the extra standalone space nor health human resources (staffing) capacity to safely provide multiple assessment centres. This is not a decision driven by finances or cost. Our health human resource needs have increased exponentially through the pandemic and recruiting to Muskoka during these uncertain times has been difficult, without the added regional challenge of attainable affordable housing in Muskoka. The pandemic has required the hospital to expand staffing levels in certain areas, and as such the need for people to provide care and support to our patients during the pandemic has increased dramatically. This need for physical health human resources and the challenges to recruit are shared by countless hospitals across Ontario, as well as Long Term Care, and home and community care, let alone private enterprise in many different labour markets. 

I recognize that access to testing is important and we hope that other community health care providers will also organize and support access to COVID-19 testing through the fall and winter. I also understand travel to MAHC’s assessment centre located in Bracebridge may be difficult for some people. Those who are challenged to attend MAHC’s assessment centre in Bracebridge can talk to us about options when they call to make their appointment. I would encourage people to consider their own individual options for transportation supports by reaching out to friends and family or regional transportation services, such as the Corridor 11 bus that stops at the South Muskoka site. I also remind people they can engage their family doctor or nurse practitioner who may also be able to take a COVID19 swab for their patients. While one centre is not proximal or convenient to all, MAHC must also balance the population needs of the south and west portions of the region we serve, which to date have not had an assessment centre in their backyard. 

It is hoped all understand that MAHC did not close the assessment centres. MAHC stepped up to assume the responsibility for community testing, and due to reasons explained above, is only able to do so in one location in Bracebridge. There would not have been a COVID-19 testing in Muskoka after August 28, 2020 if MAHC hadn’t stepped forward to offer an assessment centre.

I am confident that through the carefully considered assessment centre venue on our property and the staffing model, MAHC is positioned to meet the regional need for testing efficiently while protecting our staff and hospital patients. With the resources we have, MAHC continues to do the very best we can to serve the thousands of residents and visitors across the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On behalf of our staff, physicians and volunteers we thank you for your continued support.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Planning a gradual and cautious ramp-up for resuming hospital services

Our everyday lives have changed dramatically with the COVID-19 global pandemic and the same is true for hospital operations. Over the past two months, Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) has been nimble to implementing service changes to do our part to contain community transmission of COVID-19, to preserve critical resources for when they are most needed, and most importantly to keep our patients, staff and physicians safe. 

To ensure hospitals in Ontario had enough beds to care for a surge of COVID-19 patients, scheduled, non-urgent surgeries and procedures were paused in mid-March. Visitor restrictions were implemented, and our hospital auxiliary members stepped away from their volunteering duties. We put in place screening measures and made infrastructure changes to be able to expand our limited number of private rooms to meet isolation precautions for a highly infectious virus. Though it may have seemed that scaling back services meant less activity in the hospitals, our teams were implementing and adjusting to doing different things, or at a minimum doing things differently. Every function changed in one way or another. It was not business as usual for our staff, and I am exceptionally proud of every member of our team for their hard work, dedication and courage during an incredibly unprecedented and extraordinary time.

Redeployed Diagnostic Imaging staff spend time "spring cleaning",
 safely purging thousands of imaging films that no longer
have to be stored under health information retention rules.

As the Province of Ontario takes steps to reopen the economy, the health care world is also assessing its readiness and preparing plans for a gradual and cautious reopening process. This will not happen with the flip of a switch, nor will it be a one-size-fits-all ramp-up plan. We all must recognize the pandemic continues while we co-exist with COVID-19, safety precautions will continue for some time, and there will be a new normal for all of us.

Hospitals and their regional partners are figuring out together where, when and how scheduled care can safely resume for waiting patients. We appreciate the frustration and angst that delays in care have caused, and we too want to provide care as soon as possible. Regardless, our top priority is to make sure everyone will be safe when they return to the hospitals, and this includes making more changes that will protect against the spread of the virus, like respecting the ongoing need for physical distancing and other public health measures. Recovery planning is not just about restoring what we had the way it was, but also about rethinking and redesigning how we provide care in the future to reduce safety risks, embrace virtual care, and remain ready to respond to unexpected COVID-19 surges.

The government, which must approve our plan, has set out strict criteria that must be met before hospitals can resume elective surgeries. For example: the number of COVID-19 cases in the region must be manageable; hospitals must ensure they have enough protective equipment, medication, staff and community-based services to care for recovering patients; and we can’t start to ramp-up if our inpatient occupancy rate is above 85 per cent.

This message reinforces that health care has changed dramatically over the past two months, resuming services will take weeks not days and hospital operations will look very different as we move forward. At the appropriate time, patients will be contacted by the hospital or their physician’s office to advise them when their procedure will be scheduled. And in the meantime we encourage everyone to continue with self-isolation precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, continue to flatten the curve and avoid the potential for a second wave. Stay updated as the situation at MAHC changes by visiting www.mahc.ca/COVID-19/

Monday, 27 April 2020

MAHC Board’s Message to Our Communities


Phil Matthews
This blog prepared by Phil Matthews, Chair of the MAHC Board of Directors

As Chair of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s Board of Directors, I am so impressed and humbled by the efforts of our health care teams in combatting COVID-19. During this crisis, the Board has been kept up to date on the pandemic preparations and status at the hospitals and has moved to virtual meetings like so many of you. Even while physically distant from the hospitals, we are well aware of the exceptional efforts being made by all members of the MAHC team. 

Although we have never experienced anything quite like COVID-19, MAHC has successfully adapted to the changing  circumstances every day. From the Pandemic Incident Command Team planning the details to the staff and physicians skillfully executing them, we have the utmost confidence in the hospitals’ pandemic preparedness. 

By every account our teams across our two sites along with our community partners have pulled together remarkably in the face of very challenging times. Examples are varied and many but include activities such as preparing spaces in the hospitals designated for COVID care that we hope will never be filled with patients, frequent simulations and scenario planning to ensure all details are accounted for, and collaboratively setting up and operating the Assessment Centres. To date, we have been fortunate to have seen very few cases in our hospitals. But if MAHC were to see a sudden surge of COVID-19 patients requiring hospital care, I know they are very well prepared. On behalf of all the Directors, I want to again say a most sincere thank you to all of the staff and physicians and commend you for your compassionate care and your courage during COVID. 

While the Board has the utmost confidence in our MAHC team, as a community we can still help them help us. First and foremost, please heed the government’s insistence about the importance of continued physical distancing. Please take care of yourselves – both emotionally and physically. If you have symptoms, please seek testing through either of the Muskoka Assessment Centres (more information can be found at www.mahc.ca/COVID-19/). Please remember to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Preparations for COVID-19 come with a cost to securing the necessary supplies and equipment to increase our capacity to care for critically ill patients. We are forever grateful for all of our communities’ support for our two hospital foundations and, especially in such trying times, we hope you are able in some way to continue with that absolutely critical support.

Thank you for doing your part, for standing by our side, for helping your hospital through various much appreciated donations, and helping your fellow community members.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Another Message to Our Communities About COVID-19

Since my first COVID-19 blog on March 25, I’m pleased to share another update with our communities from Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare. In the past week and a half, our emergency planning has continued to evolve to a greater level of preparedness for an influx of patients from COVID-19. We are taking the advice of public health very seriously that community spread is occurring, and we remind everyone of the importance of staying home and physical distancing from others. It is the only way to protect ourselves and each other, and limit the potential of overwhelming the hospitals during the pandemic. Our teams across both sites stay at work for you and we remind you how critical it is to stay at home for them, with the exception of essential trips for groceries, takeout food, or medications – and only if you are feeling well. Be sure to keep washing your hands! 
Like every Ontario hospital, MAHC will struggle with the patient surge that is anticipated still to come due to COVID-19. As a smaller community hospital we have limited personnel and limited space. Health care practitioners fill many roles in our communities and we are monitoring the wellness of the hospital workforce and recognize the potential for burning out these hardworking providers in every facet of health careOur teams are doing everything they can to provide excellent care for patients with medical needs unrelated to COVID-19, while responding with a dynamic pandemic plan. If COVID-19 becomes very prevalent in Muskoka, we have to remember how being able and healthy to go to work can impact many essential service workers. Please, please, stay at home.
There is no question the population in Muskoka has grown in the last few weeks. MAHC will always serve whoever comes through our doors to the best of our ability whether they live here 12 months of the year, operate a business, cottage here or are visiting our region. We all like to call Muskoka home, and we are all in this together. More than ever we must be kind, stop drawing lines, and support and respect each other. Our hospital foundations are blessed by the generosity of numerous donors, seasonal residents too, who make hospital care better for everyone.
With the concern and potential impact of community spread, MAHC has done a lot of work to put in place additional measures at Muskoka’s two hospitals including:
  • We have ensured robust infection control isolation precautions are practiced diligently everywhere at all times. Regardless of where potential or confirmed COVID-19 patients are, various practices are in place to protect against cross-contamination of any infection.
  • We are following guidelines for mask use and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementing directives that reduce the risk of potential transmission from anyone who could be carrying the virus but do not show symptoms.
  • We continue to monitor and react to a provincially-challenged supply chain of personal protective equipment. We’ve launched a community donations process through the leadership of our Huntsville Hospital and South Muskoka Hospital Foundations. We are so grateful to everyone for their overwhelming support of gifted masks, gowns and gloves, and hand sanitizer, as well as financial support through donations. Information about this streamlined process and what we are in need of most is on our website for anyone who can help.
  • We have worked collaboratively with our health care partners to open two assessment centres – one in Bracebridge and one in Huntsville. These centres are by appointment only Monday to Friday. Learn more about the process for getting an appointment at a centre if you think you have COVID-19.
  • We continue to work closely with our partners, and Home and Community Care to move patients to appropriate environments, which also been effective to reduce the number of admitted patients in each of our sites.
  • By moving quickly on difficult decisions to cancel elective surgeries, we have also been able to free up hospital beds should the wave come. In the days ahead, our Operating Rooms will be used for emergency surgeries only as we continue to align with updated provincial direction to ramp down services even more.
  • We have finalized our pandemic plan for a surge in critical care needs. This type of planning guides both mitigation and response and follows a phased approach that looks to maximize capacity at both campuses and identify and prepare appropriate spaces to manage COVID patients effectively according to infection control guidelines.
  • Teams are looking at innovative ways to change flows in the Emergency Dept. to create separate streams to serve COVID and non-COVID patient needs to protect the safety of all.
  • Our clinicians are modelling optimal care for COVID patients through simulations across both sites.
  • And providers are exploring virtual care options both in hospital and in community primary care so those who are ill have alternative means to get the care they need without leaving their homes.
Provincial and Ministry directives are changing rapidly as new information and statistics become available and are reviewed daily and by our Pandemic Command Team. Our staff and physicians remain committed to COVID containment and compassionate care. I am grateful every day for their courage and their hard work during these very difficult and often stressful times. On their behalf, I would also like to share some thanks to everyone who keeps us in their thoughts and prayers. 
MAHC has been very fortunate to be on the receiving end of donated masks, gowns and gloves, and hand sanitizer as well as financial support through donations, tokens of appreciation that have been dropped off, cards of thanks and well wishes on our social media posts, last week’s sirens of support from our fellow first responders, and grab-and-go prepared food for our teams from businesses that have worked with our Foundations. Countless community partners and friends have offered supplies, accommodations, other assistance and support, while donors continue to support and believe in our hospitals. This is the true meaning of community, and together, we will get through this. 
Please rest assured your Muskoka hospitals are committed to acting in the best interests of preparedness for our greater communities. We know this will be a long haul that will persist for weeks to months, but we also know someday this will be over. Take care of yourselves and your families. Be diligent with physical distancing. Stay healthy and stay safe!