“I can’t ask the staff to do something I won’t do myself”: When his facility had a Covid outbreak, this long-term care CEO stepped up to nurse patients himself
2020-06-01 from torontolife.com
By John Yip, CEO, Kensington Health
In the 1960s, my grandparents emigrated from Canton, China, to Toronto, and ended up at 7 Kensington Avenue. Growing up, I’d spend every weekend in the market with them. I lived with my parents in Scarborough, where we were the only Asian family in the neighbourhood, so being near Chinatown felt like home. I even broke my arm climbing a tree in the neighbourhood, and got my cast at the old Doctor’s Hospital. Now, decades later, I’m the CEO of Kensington Health, a not-for-profit community health organization that operates on the same site. We run a number of clinics, including a diagnostic imaging centre, a service centre for seniors and and a 350-bed long-term care home. Kensington Market is my community.
Pre-Covid, my day-to-day work was generally business-oriented: I worked closely with the board of directors, strategizing the future of Kensington Health and how we could serve our clients, caregivers and staff. Once the pandemic hit, the health of our residents became my number one concern. We were always several measures ahead of what the province had mandated. We moved quickly to universal masking, were rigorous about donning and doffing PPE and implemented screening stations immediately after the government instructed us to do so. We were militant about banning non-essential visitors, and we restricted staff members from moving between floors and limited staff who were working in multiple facilities, which caused major staffing gaps. But I knew that even if we shrink-wrapped our homes, the virus would find its way in.
On March 12, two or three days before the government banned guests, one of our residents had a visitor who we later learned was Covid-positive; Toronto Public Health did contact tracing and notified us. The resident she visited, who’s 83, was the only person on the floor to get infected. She started with a dry cough that progressed into a fever, and she was transferred to hospital for a couple of days. We didn’t think she was going to make it, but she rallied and made a full recovery.
Then, a week later, one of our staff members became infected with Covid. She was asymptomatic and didn’t realize she had the virus, so she came to work in the dementia unit. The entire floor was infected, as well as five or six staff members. The dementia ward is the worst place to have a Covid outbreak because many of the residents tend to wander. They’re quite restless, and it’s hard to keep them contained. That’s how the virus spread. Of the 24 people on the floor, 22 tested positive for Covid. Despite the screening stations, despite universal masking, it just takes one little mistake. I knew an outbreak was bound to happen regardless of our precautions. We were playing roulette.
What you’ve heard in the media about long-term care is true. We were already short-staffed before Covid, and as the number of cases increased, the situation became unbearable. There were four staff taking care of 24 people—half our usual complement. The team was scrambling. I thought about another situation we faced in health care, when medically assisted dying was legislated in Ontario. Shortly after the legislation passed, we had our first request. Our chief of anesthesia showed up, hands shaking, sweating, nervous, ready to carry out the order. He said, “If I can’t do it myself, I can’t ask my team to do it.” When Covid struck, I had to put out an all-hands-on-deck call to all of our staff at Kensington Health working in different areas, like the surgery centre, to see if they would be willing to work in the long-term care home. About 20 of those people put up their hands to volunteer. It was unbelievable. They demonstrated such courage. And I knew that I couldn’t ask staff to help if I wasn’t able to help out myself. Half of the individuals on the dementia ward require help with feeding, so that’s what I did.
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