WINCHESTER – The hospital is here, it is open, and it is prepared. That is the message from Winchester District Memorial Hospital CEO Cholly Boland.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, The Leader sat down, virtually, with Boland to talk about preparedness at the hospital, what would happen if there was a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region, and how staff is doing during this stressful time.
“It’s anxious times, and stressful for all staff. Whether frontline or elsewhere,” Boland said. “Some of things that have helped alleviate that is information. What’s going on outside our hospital, what we’re doing inside, and certainly training and experience.”
He said that the hospital is two months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the staff have experienced testing and treating patients with the virus.
“That’s helping ease the anxiety because not only do we know what we’re doing but we have demonstrated evidence we know what we’re doing.”
A lot of the training has dealt with Personal Protective Equipment, training scenarios, and putting that training into practice.
“That’s really helping a lot,” Boland said adding that part of what is contributing to the anxiety is the anticipation that there would be an outbreak in this area.
To date, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, which the WDMH falls under, has had a relatively low number of positive cases of COVID-19. As of April 21st, there are only five patients hospitalized in the region. Unlike regions further west, there have been no outbreaks in long-term care homes in the EOHU region.
“The provincial announcement Monday that we think we’re past the provincial peak and we may not be getting this wave of hospital in-patients will probably allieviate some anxiety but we know we’re going to be getting more patients at some point,” said Boland.
The WDMH is part of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, which has 16 hospitals working together to coordinate care in the region. The provincial government began restructuring and consolidating LHINs in 2019, but the current structure is still working during the pandemic.
“It’s not just us, Cornwall and nearby hospitals. We are connected to a larger network,” Boland said. “From the WDMH perspective we don’t have a true Intensive Care Unit, we have an Extended Care Unit in which our most ill patients reside.”
He explained that when a patient requires ventilation, or treatment for a very serious illness, COVID-19 or otherwise, the hospital transfers that patent to a larger hospital, usually one in Ottawa.
“We’ve been fortunate in this area that we haven’t had a disproportional number of COVID-19 cases that are so serious that they have required hospitalization,” said Boland.
In case of a serious outbreak of COVID-19, the hospital has identified expansion spaces in the building for additional beds if needed. For the sake of COVID-19 preparedness, WDMH has equipment that can be used as a ventilator if needed. Boland said that physicians and staff have been trained on how to do that, but it would only come into play if the greater hospital system was already full and patients needing ventilation could not be transferred elsewhere.
“Winchester is of the size that we don’t do ventilation, and we don’t normally have ventilators,” he said. “If we need to ventilate a patient we would transfer them out.”
Part of the region’s COVID-19 response, in the event of a larger outbreak, would send patients requiring ventilation to larger hospitals, and transfer less ill patients that a hospital like WDMH could care for back to help share the load. That is under a worst-case scenario.
“It’s not just us, or Cornwall, it’s all of Eastern Ontario that is part of this plan,” said Boland.
Boland said that the amount of community support has been outstanding for hospital staff and frontline workers.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we have such a generous community that has provided us with donations of PPE, of food – like you wouldn’t believe – and tributes.”
Boland said there have been many thank yous and messages of support received by the hospital that helps the overall environment at the hospital.
Another change that has helped staff with the stress and anxiety of dealing with a pandemic has been commitment awards. Boland explained that normally the WDMH has a quarterly recognition of a volunteer, a staff member, and a physician in what the hospital calls a ‘commitment award’.
“Three weeks ago, one of our physicians suggested that given the environment and the kind of anxiety out there why don’t we have that daily? So we do.”
Peers nominate hospital collegues and the names go into a hat. One name is drawn each day and is given a shout out in the hospital and that staff member receives a small gift.
“It’s becoming quite popular. Everything stops for that announcement everyday when it comes out. We try to show our appreciation in as many ways as possible, but certainly there is always more we can do.”
While the pandemic has been happening, the hospital is still functioning for non-COVID19 care. Boland said that Emergency Departments at hospitals have seen a sharp decline in use during the COVID-19, but that people shouldn’t neglect going to the hospital if they need to.
“We are prepared to care for in-patients and out-patients,” he said.
“We are prepared if someone is really acutely ill to work with another hospital to make sure they get the care they need. Apart from that if you need hospital care, we are here.”
At any given time, there are 40 to 50 patients in the hospital Boland said. “If people need that service, we are here to help them.”