Call of Duty: Headwaters Health Care Centre

Manager Lena Bruce, physician Charlie Joyce and nurse Darlene Fitzpatrick kept Headwaters Health Care Centre’s Covid-19 assessment centre going during the pandemic.

November 24, 2020 | | Local Heroes

By early November, the Covid-19 assessment centre in Orangeville had recorded more than 35,000 visits and conducted nearly 33,000 tests. In that time, 810 Covid cases were confirmed in Dufferin and Caledon, including 29 hospital staff members and physicians.

At the start of 2020, none of this was on the agenda for the staff at Headwaters Health Care Centre. But people like Lena Bruce and Darlene Fitzpatrick are old hands at dealing with a crisis. In normal times, both work at the hospital – Lena as manager of the emergency department and Darlene as an emergency room charge nurse.

Lena Bruce (left), Dr Charlie Joyce and Darlene Fitzpatrick in front of the Headwaters Health Care Centre Covid-19 assessment centre. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Lena Bruce (left), Dr Charlie Joyce and Darlene Fitzpatrick in front of the Headwaters Health Care Centre Covid-19 assessment centre. Photo by Pete Paterson.

In addition to her original assignment, Lena now also serves as manager of the assessment centre, while Darlene transferred there as charge nurse. Staffed by about a dozen people, the centre was first located in a tent near the hospital and processed up to 500 people a day. Compared with the emergency room, says Darlene, “It’s not nearly as stressful, but it sure is busy.” As winter approached in early November, the centre moved to a separated area inside the hospital.

Both Lena and Darlene also volunteered to be part of a team that went to work during an outbreak last spring at Shelburne Residence, the long-term care home where 21 residents have died. While there, Darlene also contracted the illness, and despite taking all the precautions, one of her daughters did too. “It was a rough couple of weeks,” says Darlene, and though she has long since recovered, she still experiences some breathing issues.

Despite the risk, Lena says, “My whole career has been in emergency. I’ve never even done in-patient work at the hospital. So the Shelburne Residence experience was quite rewarding.”

Charlie Joyce is the physician lead for the assessment centre. In the early days he attended a planning meeting with representatives of eight different community agencies. “There was a spirit of ‘how can we all come together?’” he says. “That really carried us through the early stages.” There was also a lot of fear, he adds, and a lot of questions: “How bad is it going to get? Will we have to do things we don’t normally do? Will the hospital be overwhelmed? Are we going to get sick? Is there some part of my house where I can sleep to protect my family?”

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  • Darlene says one frustrating aspect of working in the assessment centre is people who don’t follow the rules. “It can be disheartening,” she says. “We’re making sacrifices, even risking bringing it into our homes doing this work, and then we get people demanding a test because they felt attending some big party was more important than the welfare of everyone around them.”

    All three agree the biggest challenge has been the ever-evolving guidelines about who gets a test. Initially the number of people who qualified was limited. Then the rules changed and nearly everyone could get one. But in October new changes limited qualified individuals once again. Says Lena, “Keeping up with all that and communicating it to the public can be crazy. We’ve had some unhappy patients.”

    Still, she adds, “I’ve been amazed by the staff. It’s been wonderful to be part of it.”

    Headwaters Health Care Centre: One of our 2020 Local Heroes

    About the Author More by Jeff Rollings

    Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Caledon.

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