Terry Pursell, President and CEO, North York General Foundation

COVID-19 Updates: Message from the President – April 23, 2020

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow marks six weeks of working remotely, either perched on a counter stool, a chair at the kitchen table or standing up and doing light weights during a video call (with the video turned off!). I can now deftly utilize three different screens but did manage this morning to accidentally call an entire user group and spent a few minutes on a “sorry”, “how are you anyway?” and “stay safe” dialogue. It is in these moments that I am reminded how we all have adapted, but I am keen, at the appropriate time, to go back to the hospital to see my colleagues, friends and donors.

I have shared with you how some of our health care providers have been caring for our community during the COVID crisis. Outbreaks in long-term care homes is a growing crisis that has the attention of the entire country. Many have been devastated and overwhelmed and are only now receiving the support they need and deserve. The team at our 192-bed long-term care home, called Seniors’ Health Centre (SHC), was out in front of COVID-19 thanks to the clinical leadership at SHC and North York General. Thus far, our residents have been spared any COVID-19 outbreaks thanks to the early decisions around screening, masking and critical changes to the visitors policy.

I thought you might like to know a bit more about the care of our seniors from the Director of Care, Christine Ramdeyol. She and her team bring joy, compassion and comfort to those in their charge.

Christine Ramdeyol, Director of Care, Seniors’ Health Centre

We have laughed, cried and experienced every emotion with your loved ones so they do not feel alone. 

— Christine Ramdeyol
Director of Care, Seniors’ Health Centre

Q: There have been so many changes to the “normal lives” of staff and residents alike. How have they responded?

A: For the SHC team, the “new normal” involves staff being let in through locked doors and upon entry, we are screened with a series of questions requiring both verbal and “tap” verification. Then, the screeners perform the first of two required temperature checks and we don PPE, which we wear throughout our shifts.

For our residents, the “new normal” means no longer being visited in person by loved ones. It also means receiving two daily temperature checks. Residents now experience staff wearing masks at all times, so they cannot see their lips moving when they speak or see them smile. The “new normal” means sitting two to a table, two metres apart in the dining room and occupancy-controlled lounge areas.

To adjust to the new normal, we have introduced iPads generously donated by the foundation to facilitate virtual visits and combat social isolation. We have also increased one-on-one visits and daily updates to our families about the status of their loved ones.

SHC team members now smile with their eyes, demonstrate compassion and grace through their body language, and convey kindness and understanding in their words.

Q: SHC was early out of the gate in restricting visitors and implementing strict infection prevention and control procedures. How did that help prepare you? 

A: Restricting visitors and private duty nurses was a logical approach. We carefully thought about how this would affect our residents and families, and had team members personally call each family to address their concerns. Universal masking in SHC was also implemented well before it became a long-term care directive.

In order to be prepared for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak, I knew that any and all early interventions would benefit who it mattered to most: our residents. At this time, we have not experienced any cases of infection in SHC. Being a part of the North York General Hospital community allowed us to have the equipment we needed to do our jobs safely, and for that our team is forever grateful.

Q: Even in challenging times, there is often a bright spot that keeps us going. What has been your bright spot?

A: I am fortunate to have several bright spots in my life that I cherish and can turn to during challenging times. My husband, who is a pharmacist on the front line, and my twin daughters shine the brightest.

My SHC bright spot has been the outpouring of support and gratitude we’ve received from our families and community partners. Everyone has been so generous. After a series of particularly challenging days, I remember walking into the home and noticing a hand-made sign displayed so that staff would see it upon entering.  To express our gratitude, I immediately called the family member who displayed the sign. They replied with “the SHC team deserves more. Keep fighting the good fight.”

Q: What story will you tell future care providers about what you learned about managing through COVID-19?

A: We assessed the situation and made the collective decision to act above and beyond what was required of long-term care homes at the time. This involved implementing extraordinary measures, including restricting visitation, creating contingency staffing, restricting work at multiple locations, in-depth screening of staff and residents, and working with families on advanced care planning.

I’d like to remind future care providers of how vital their role is each day, especially when they are called to act. During this pandemic, I have learned the importance of rallying your team and having a shared vision for the home.

Q: If you were to send one message to family members and the community at large about SHC, what would it be?

A: Although you cannot be with them in person at this time, your love is still felt and understood. We need you to know that we want you here, too, and we understand how you are feeling. We’ve grieved with your loved ones over the loss of your physical presence, but we’ve also lifted your loved ones back up. Although we provide care and comfort when you cannot, our presence will never overshadow yours. We have laughed, cried and experienced every emotion with your loved ones so they do not feel alone. We are grateful to you for entrusting us with their care, and we will do everything within our power to keep them safe.

If you are interested in specifically supporting seniors’ health care during this COVID crisis, the Cheng Family will generously donate up to $100,000 for a dollar for dollar matching gift program directed towards the Seniors’ Health Centre and care of our senior patients in the hospital. For more information, please click here.

If you are interested in learning more about COVID-19-related issues, please go to the hospital’s website at nygh.on.ca/covid-19-updates and remember to access our self-assessment tool at covid19toronto.ca to help guide you if you or a family member are feeling unwell.

Lastly, I provided an update on children and youth mental health care to the supporters of Phillips House and Maddie’s Healing Garden, and if you are interested to hear how we continue to treat these young patients during these unusual times, click here.

My best to you and yours, and #staysafe,

Terry Pursell
Terry Pursell
President & CEO

P.S. If you or someone you know is considering supporting North York General, please go to NYGHtacklescovid19.com, which highlights our Emergency Response Fund to address current and post-pandemic preparedness.