(Originally published in the June 2021 edition of The Walleye Magazine)
Managing the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a lot of planning at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre over the past year-plus. However, those plans also have to be put into action in a timely, organized manner if they are to be successful. That’s where Ron Turner comes in. He is the Director of Acute Medicine, Stroke, and Seniors Programs at the Hospital, and is currently acting as the operations section lead on the Health Sciences Centre’s COVID-19 Incident Management Team. We spoke with Ron about how this process works, what kinds of changes they’ve had to make, and how he feels the Hospital is set to react should we see another spike in COVID-19 cases.
The Walleye: What’s involved putting a pandemic action plan into place?
Ron Turner: As soon as changes in ministry directives or process gaps or mitigation strategies are identified for action, the IMT [the COVID incident management team] planning section develops a response plan that is presented to IMT for approval. Once that’s approved, the plans are then handed over to the operations section, which consists of representation from programs and services across the organization. From there, stakeholders are engaged to assist in the execution of the plan. […] So what the plan is, and how detailed or how far-reaching it is, depends on who’s engaged in that process. Oftentimes, those stakeholders are engaged in the development of the plan. But sometimes, once we get to the implementation piece, we need to sort of reach out a little bit more broadly, also [making] sure we’re communicating the change, and that if there’s education required to support the change, that that happens. Then we reach out to logistics to pull in the pieces—for example, if equipment is needed, if staff is needed, those pieces are coordinated.
TW: What are some things that you’ve had to implement?
RT: It’s a pretty extensive list. We’ve operationalized procedures for staff, patient, and visitor screening, COVID-19 assessment and vaccination processes, and infection control protocols. We supported critical care capacity planning—the creation of the COVID-19 inpatient unit was a significant piece of work that we had to undertake. That’s really just naming a few. The IMT operations section has been involved at some level in every activity associated with the hospital’s response to the pandemic, so as little as a small change in current policy, to the way we isolate patients who have COVID-19.
TW: What was involved in setting up the dedicated ward for COVID patients?
RT: We had to make sure the unit had boundaries in order to make sure it was a closed environment in order to maintain infection control. We also needed to coordinate staff so there were specific staff who were specifically dedicated to the area. There was ensuring that that staff had the appropriate education to care for this specific patient population. And then, once patients are in a unit in the hospital, they don’t necessarily stay in that unit—they’re often transferred to other departments—so how do we maintain infection control principles while they’re going to DI [diagnostic imaging], for example, or other areas in the hospital that they might need to attend during their admission?
TW: How confident are you in the hospital’s ability to handle any future spike in cases? [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in early May, while case number in the Thunder Bay district were in decline.]
RT: There is a very robust pandemic response plan in place that looks at ICU [intensive care unit] capacity and how we can surge outside of the ICU into other areas and still support that level of care. Aligned with that is a comprehensive staffing plan, so that we can ensure that the skill set of healthcare providers are managing those types of patients, so there’s been a lot of work up front. Some of this was in place before the pandemic in preparation for the event that we were ever having to have to use it, but this has been a great opportunity, and I’m really proud of the fact that the hospital has remained so nimble and that we’re able to change on a dime as need arises locally and then across the province. We really have been able to shift our focus in order to make sure we’re addressing the most critical needs of patients.