Death on day one of pandemic shaped aggressive response to COVID-19 at RVH

RVH President & CEO Janice Skot reflects on past year

From RVH President & CEO Janice Skot

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. Sadly, that was the same day an elderly RVH patient died from complications related to the virus.  

It was the first COVID-related death in Ontario and that tragic milestone shaped RVH’s aggressive response to the pandemic, a plan guided by a steadfast commitment to keeping our patients and TEAM RVH safe.

The COVID-19 outbreak became a ‘pandemic’ one year ago today

In those early days, directives and guidelines changed constantly as the world learned more about the novel coronavirus. It was uncharted territory and hospitals had to shift direction on a dime. The uncertainty was overwhelming as we tried to imagine the pandemic’s path.

Hospitals went into lockdown, with screeners at entrances and strict visitor restrictions. Scheduled surgeries were cancelled to create bed capacity. RVH’s beloved ‘Blue Brigade’ volunteers were suspended and, sadly, are still not present in our health centre. 

Facing a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) we worked with suppliers around the world to ensure our staff, physicians and patients were protected. Little did we know that our team would still be wearing the hot and exhausting protective equipment a year later, unable to gather strength from the smiles of our colleagues hidden behind masks and eye protection.

We introduced new process, protocols and renovated spaces to ensure safety. We hired hundreds of healthcare professionals including nurses, infection control specialists, and cleaners, while retraining TEAM RVH on our strict safety measures.

RVH expanded its lab so we could process COVID swabs in-house, and opened a testing clinic, first at the health centre and then offsite. In December we opened a vaccine site where clinic and mobile vaccinators have given more than 50,000 “shots of hope” to people from across the region.

Primary care physicians to begin offering COVID-19 vaccines in Simcoe Muskoka

We also helped our partners. RVH’s “Rapid Response Team” has provided onsite support to 25 long-term care and retirement homes as they battled this deadly virus. Meanwhile we cared for almost 100 patients transferred to RVH from the GTA. To ensure our region had enough beds, we built a 70-bed field hospital in our parking lot and created additional critical care beds. 

In the past year RVH has cared for more than 230 COVID patients and, sadly, we have seen 40 COVID-related deaths. Those sobering statistics weigh heavily on our staff and physicians.

As I reflect on this past year, we have learned many lessons.  Most of all, I’m struck – and humbled – by the incredible strength, compassion and resilience of TEAM RVH. This has been a gruelling, scary year during which our staff and physicians worried for their own safety and that of their families. Yet their commitment and courage never wavered, and their spirits were buoyed by our region’s outpouring of gratitude and encouragement.

As we mark this sober milestone, we look to the future with hope and optimism. Community vaccination clinics are open throughout Simcoe Muskoka. Agencies are working more closely together as true partners. New case counts across the province have declined significantly since January. Treatment options have improved, and fewer people are dying from this virus.

The threat of a third wave in the face of high-transmissible variants is very real, and we must all remain diligent in following safety practices. This global health crisis will continue to test us, but it also brings out the best in people.

And there are brighter days ahead.