The sign across from the Comox Valley’s North Island Hospital says it all. Painted on a board, with coloured hearts, the message is simple: “Thank you.”
It’s been joined by several signs on the stretch of road.
Over the last couple of months, since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, there has been an outpouring of gratitude from around the community toward people working on the front line, especially those in the hospital.
Many recognize the doctors, nurses and other staff inside the hospital have been tasked with something unimaginable a few months ago.
A common vision
“I think the most amazing thing has been seeing just the way people have really come together. They form a common vision, and, you know, everybody’s goal is to keep the public safe, to serve our patients as best we can and to make sure we’re all safe at the end of the day,” says Dr. Sarah Scott, an emergency room doctor at the local hospital, in a video interview for Island Health. “It’s been really amazing to see the way that people have just stepped up to the plate and come together.”
Compared with many places, B.C. and Vancouver Island have been fortunate, but the concern is always there, as is demand for other health care services that the people inside the hospital provide.
Testing for COVID-19
One of the measures health care staff have taken here and throughout the region is testing for COVID-19. There are two clinics, including one at the hospital, to help reduce demand on personal protective equipment (PPE). As family physician Dr. Adam Thompson explains, “To reduce our usage of PPE, new clinics have been created to offer face-to-face assessments.”
Since April, the Assessment Clinic is located outside the hospital in the Comox Valley for those with symptoms such as cough or fever, and who require a physical examination. This clinic is happening in trailers in front of Emergency at the North Island Hospital.
There has also been testing at the CAPE (Community Assessment and Physical Examination) Clinic, available for people who get referrals for tests. These are held at a separate location and are for those without respiratory symptoms but who need a test.
The nurses’ view
Rachel Kimler, the BC Nurses’ Union regional chair, through her conversations with nurses in the Comox Valley, says they are experiencing heightened anxiety, even though the system has not been overloaded. “It’s still constantly with you, the potential,” she says. “Every nurse is experiencing that with every patient they see.”
Having to work at a time of physical distancing makes for challenges for nurses, Kimler says. There is little care that can be provided from six feet away.
“Our profession demands that we get into people’s personal spaces,” she says. “We’re very honoured that people allow us into those spaces.”
Earlier in pandemic, many faced the stress of isolating from loved ones or taking extra precautions to avoid transmission. Then there was the constantly changing information and standards for things like personal protective equipment, as well as shortages. They have also dealt with changing job descriptions.
With concern already in the system around hospital capacity during normal times, the pandemic, Kimler says, has taken an even greater toll on morale.
The message is heard
The flip side of the stress has been the support of the community, as Kimler heard during a conversation with a nurse in the Comox Valley.
“It’s almost indescribable what it means,” Kimler says. “It brings a tear to my eye, the sense of warmth and pride…. The nurse that I just spoke to, she said … it pulls you outward to realize that this is bigger than just us…. This isn’t just impacting nurses, this is impacting us all, and we are a community.”
The community has showed its gratitude in different ways. Some restaurants have brought by food for staff. People have taken part in evening celebrations banging pots and pans from porches and balconies to send morale support, or have erected signs all over – not just in front of the hospital – to say thanks. On one spring evening, a motorcade of first responders drove by the North Island Hospital, sirens and flashes working, in a salute to the front line workers.
So many on the front line
Another fact that should not be overlooked is that many people work inside the hospital to make it function. These include technicians, office, housekeeping, pharmacy, sonography, physiotherapy, maintenance and operations, social work, speech and language pathology, and therapy staff, to name only a few. For example, protection service officers play an important role now at Island Health hospitals by providing security for COVID-19 screening and assessment clinics, along with additional support to hospital ambassadors and navigators.
“Protection services officers sometimes have little to no time or ability to modify practices to reduce risks of potential COVID-19 exposure to themselves,” says Jeremy Clarke, manager of protection services. “They are all still bravely performing their duties without complaint.”
This work helps keep everyone on the front line safe. However, some of those front-line people wish to stress it’s important for the public to see itself as the real front line by taking all the right precautions to avoid catching and spreading the virus.
“I really think that the public is the first line of defence. The things that they’re doing are enabling us to provide good care here because that gives us time to implement the plans that we’re doing,” says Dr. Scott. “It’s the most important step, and you’re doing it, so we really appreciate it, and keep going.”
(The story was put together with assistance from Island Health and the BCNU)