Terry Pursell

COVID-19 Updates: Message from the President

Dear Friends,

I took time over the long weekend to think about my colleagues in the hospital whose calling is to care for our community, no matter whether a crisis is local like the Yonge Street 2018 van attack or global and local like COVID-19. Every role at North York General is vital and our staff are here to care for you. I am pleased to share thoughts from two of our physicians, Dr. Paul Hannam and Dr. Kimberly Wintemute.

Dr Hannam

It’s important our community knows that we’re here, we’re always open and that if you need to come to the emergency department, we will keep you safe.

— Dr. Paul Hannam, Chief of Emergency Medicine


It was around the second week of January when it became clear to me that the COVID-19 outbreak was going to be a very different situation from what I experienced as an emergency department doctor with SARS in 2003. COVID-19 was spreading much more quickly. In the emergency department, we knew we had to focus on the future, adapt quickly to new information and be decisive.

Initially, the changes we made in the emergency department felt relatively minor. We did a lot of planning while we were still seeing high rates of respiratory illness due to seasonal influenza. The real shift occurred when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

With record numbers of people coming, we needed new processes, new schedules and new space in which to work. We had to act quickly, and with incredible support from across the hospital, we built an entirely new COVID-19 Assessment Centre adjacent to the Charlotte & Lewis Steinberg Emergency in just a couple of days, and we were the first operating in the city.

Each day, we learned more about how COVID-19 can affect people as well as what we can do to help.  None of us has experienced a pandemic like this first-hand, but we know what high-quality emergency medicine looks like. Our team has a long history of excellence in emergency medicine education as well as a strong international network to keep us informed. We are dedicated to keeping both our patients and our staff safe.

As challenging as this situation is for us in the emergency department, knowing that our community is supporting us, whether through messages of gratitude or donations to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund or PPE Drive, gives us hope that we’re all going to get through this together. It’s important our community knows that we’re here, we’re always open and that if you need to come to the emergency department, we will keep you safe.

Never have I felt the privilege of being part of the North York General community more deeply. We are getting through this together.

— Dr. Kimberly Wintemute, North York General Hospital family physician

Right now, the relationship between every Canadian and their family physician is essential. Knowing our patients over time helps us understand their current struggles, whether symptoms are physical, psychological or a blend of the two. Addressing medical problems early — at the family medicine level — prevents people from needing the emergency department or the hospital. These relationships are helping us offload the hospitals at this most crucial time and create capacity for the care of very ill patients.

North York General Hospital’s family medicine office switched gears early and rapidly in response to COVID-19. Most appointments are now done by phone or video call, and most support staff are working from home — thank goodness for electronic records!

In addition to looking after the needs of our practices, family physicians like me are providing ongoing service to the hospital through the labour and delivery unit, emergency department and operating room. Many of us have helped identify and move community-held personal protective equipment (PPE) and viral swabs to the hospital. We are also working in the COVID-19 assessment centres, and many of us are awaiting redeployment to hospital wards if and when needed.

As family physicians, we are committed to maintaining the health of our community and to supporting our North York General colleagues in this same task. Never have I felt the privilege of being part of the North York General community more deeply. We are getting through this together.

I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about the North York General community of health care providers that are here for you, your family and your friends.

We have had incredible support from across the community, the U.S. and China with our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Drive. We are now closing in on almost $2M in donated funds and have set a goal of $3M to help the hospital with COVID-19 emergent needs and post-pandemic planning. Please visit NYGHTacklesCovid19.ca if you are considering a gift. With over $800,000 worth of donated PPE, we are still in need and ask you to visit NYGHPPEDrive.ca for more information.

I thought I would sign off by recognizing how a small gesture of compassion can make a world of difference.

North York General Hospital recently launched a new patient- and family-centred care initiative led by staff member Shana Haberman called Cards of Compassion which brings joy to our Seniors’ Health Centre residents from the children in our community.

My best thoughts to you and yours,

Terry Pursell
Terry Pursell
President & CEO
NYGHTacklesCovid19.ca