COVID-19 Testing Centre: One Year Later
March 11, 2021 - Hospital Family Story, Stories
A year after Osler opened one of the first COVID-19 testing centres in Ontario, the team that initially staffed the centre is looking back at those challenging early days. With limited knowledge of how COVID was transmitted or the path it would take, it took dedicated health care heroes to staff a clinic made especially for people exhibiting COVID symptoms.
With several years of experience in Respirology, Kahlena Campbell, RPN, wasn’t scared. “I've been a nurse all those years and I’ve never even had the flu,” she says. “I perform a lot of hand hygiene. I make sure I’m okay and the patient is okay. I follow all the health and safety protocols.”
On March 11, 2020, Osler opened the centre in a self-contained area at Peel Memorial. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, in April Osler opened a new drive-thru testing centre in Etobicoke. In June, Peel Memorial’s clinic was converted to a drive-thru testing site, with a larger capacity.
With just days to put the first testing centre together, Kahlena was recruited to do inventory, order supplies and meet with site managers to set up equipment. Kahlena recommended Kiran Ram, RPN, to help staff the centre. Aastha Kohli, RPN, soon joined them.
“We didn't have a whole lot of information, but we were told that we would be given support, and we were,” says Kiran. “Anything we needed was made available to us.”
With a capacity of 200 to 300 tests a day, there were sometimes up to 800 people waiting in line. “People were anxious, people really wanted to get that test done as soon as possible, so security had a really big job,” Kiran says.
There was some inevitable anger and frustration. “It was stressful, but I think nursing is similar to customer service,” Kiran says. “They were concerned, and they were panicking, and you couldn't blame them. That's nothing new. Nurses have to deal with that all the time.” On the flip side, many patients appreciated the care, some dropping off treats to express gratitude.
“The community’s support has been touching,” says Aastha. “I keep my work badge attached to my keys and when I was at the grocery store, the cashier noticed it and actually bought me a bouquet of flowers. It made me super emotional. The job is rewarding as is and when people go out of their way to recognize you, you feel so proud.”
To control the flow of patients, a ticketing system was implemented, with timed tickets for each day. Those who couldn’t be seen got tickets for the next day. “Once that ticketing system came into place, they could have an idea of when they could be tested,” says Kiran. “That made people feel better.”
Safety was paramount. “I made sure it was an environment where we were responsible for the environment ourselves, even though we had housekeeping,” says Kahlena. “If you don’t do the job safely, you are putting yourself, your family and your patient at risk.”
The team made incredible sacrifices to provide critical care for their community. “Physical work is one thing, but the mental strain was a little heavy,” says Kiran. When her toddler’s daycare shut down, Kiran put her daughter in the care of her parents. Because her parents are at high risk, she didn’t see the three of them for almost six months.
With shifts as long as 14 hours, the team grew close. “When you're surrounded with these positive people that are hard working, it keeps it moving,” says Kiran. “Everybody was doing their part, and we had a lot of good support from upper management. We had an amazing team and I was really lucky to work with these people. We have bonded for life.”
While some might shy away from such a daunting task, Kahlena sees the positives. “I’m glad for the opportunity to be asked to help out with the COVID clinic,” she says. “It was a good experience – I felt really privileged.”
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