#BehindTheVaccine tells the stories of Michael Garron Hospital’s (MGH) and East Toronto Health Partners’ (ETHP) COVID-19 vaccine team, a group of dedicated staff, physicians and healthcare leaders who have administered more than 600,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to East Toronto residents since December 2020. Meet the clinic team.Since December 2020, the clinic team at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) and its Ontario Health Team, East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), has staffed more than 900 vaccine clinics in the span of only 400 days.
These have included clinics at schools, plazas, mosques, apartment buildings, community centres and grocery stores; clinics designed to accommodate specific populations such as seniors and individuals who speak languages other than English; and two record-breaking clinics at Thorncliffe Park Community Hub and Scotiabank Arena. They've also helped deliver vaccines at mobile bus clinics, workplaces and COVID-19 Outreach Centres; in vulnerable patients' homes; and on the Danforth, Gerrard Street East and Queen Street East, where they have approached pedestrians, staff at local businesses and others to inquire if they'd like to be vaccinated.
These remarkable individuals are MGH and ETHP’s boots-on-the-ground staff – the face of the East Toronto vaccine campaign. They are screeners; registration and unit clerks; IT specialists; supervisors and site leads; booking staff; security agents; and nurses and physicians, including family doctors from East Toronto Family Practice Network (EasT-FPN).
They are the first people patients see when they arrive at one of MGH and ETHP’s vaccine clinics. They calm nerves. They manage long line-ups. They problem solve on their feet. They work evenings, holidays and during snowstorms. They are also the individuals who are heroically putting vaccines into arms.
As of January 2022, more than 90 per cent of Torontonians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Toronto’s east end, this accomplishment would not have been possible without the strength and determination of MGH and ETHP’s clinic staff. From showing up day in and out to MGH and ETHP's established clinics in priority neighbourhoods like Thorncliffe Park and Danforth Village to taking vaccines on the road as part of mobile efforts, this team has spent more than a year leading the way for the city’s community vaccination efforts.
"It's been incredible to see what we've been able to do as a team," says Shabina Rangarej, Manager of Vaccine Clinics at Michael Garron Hospital. "From scheduling staff to coordinating the operations of clinics big and small, including hyperlocal community-building clinics where our staff go to door-to-door and clinics where we've been able to administer more than 25,000 doses within 24 hours, our clinic team has worked tirelessly to ensure our community has access to life-saving vaccines."
Unit clerk Marta McIlroy describes the 10,000-dose record-breaking day at MGH and ETHP’s Thorncliffe Park Community Hub clinic as a “smooth, well-oiled machine.” To her, the record was special because it was accomplished by the MGH and ETHP team without outside assistance. “We did it on our own; it was just our people,” she says. “It felt like we could do it every day.”
Meet some of the members of the clinic team behind MGH and ETHP’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
Shabina Rangarej, Manager, Vaccine Clinics, Michael Garron Hospital
Ruth Reboldela, Supervisor, Vaccine Clinics, Michael Garron Hospital
Rangarej and Reboldela oversee and manage MGH and ETHP’s vaccine clinics in East Toronto. Since December 2020, they have ensured clinics run smoothly, address patient concerns and navigate on-site emergencies if necessary – or “putting out fires” on-site, as Rangarej puts it.
The strategy behind vaccine distribution and clinical operations is constantly evolving during the pandemic, with Rangarej and Reboldela at the forefront of helping their team through these changes. Whether it’s handling changes in eligible populations or disruptions to vaccine supply, managing clinics requires rapid decision making and flexibility from Rangarej and Reboldela. “It takes a lot of on-the-feet quick thinking,” Rangarej says.
After more than a year of getting people vaccinated, Rangarej and Reboldela are proud of their team’s accomplishments. The team is always willing to try out new tactics, from ways to reduce patient wait times to introducing mobile street teams to East Toronto, they say.
“For me, our biggest accomplishment is that our clinics are talked about constantly [in the community],” Rangarej says. The result is almost 600,000 vaccines administered in East Toronto. “Our team is always there,” Reboldela says.
Booking Clerk, Michael Garron Hospital
James is a member of the booking team that helps community members set up their appointments to be vaccinated. She also fields questions from local residents trying to find locations, learn more about the vaccine process and more.
James says she is particularly proud of the support that MGH and ETHP have been able to provide to elderly members of the community. Some need help booking their appointments, while others are referred to mobile or homebound teams if they are unable to travel to clinics. James makes a point to check in frequently with these patients over the phone to ensure they are getting the help they need.
She is full of praise for her colleagues and is proud of the whole team’s accomplishments.
“It feels great to know that I’m a part of something so monumental,” James says. “People that I talk to are very excited to book their appointments and are excited to get help from us.”
Unit Clerk, Michael Garron Hospital
For MGH and ETHP’s registration and screening staff, flexibility is a key component of the position.
“The role is constantly changing,” says McIlroy, who has worked at several different clinic locations, including fixed clinics, mobile and pop-up clinics, as well as the dedicated clinic for First Nations, Inuit and Metis individuals. In addition to her regular duties, McIlroy has registered patients at the MGH COVID-19 Assessment Centre, worked as a screener at MGH’s front entrance and helped with data entry for the vaccine booking office.
At the vaccine clinics, her duties generally include registering patients, entering their personal information into the Ontario government vaccine database, observing patients for safety after their vaccine and helping them get their proof of vaccination – but there’s no typical day in her role, she says.
“When we first started, we didn’t have enough vaccines to keep up with demand, so my role was more of an enforcer,” she says, ensuring those who showed up were eligible to receive the vaccine and had appointments booked.
“When there were more vaccines than people, we became more like salespeople,” she says. The Pfizer adult vaccine gives six doses per vial, so McIlroy was often tasked with finding extra people to vaccinate at the end of the day to ensure no doses went to waste. “We’d go out onto the street and find people,” she says.
One of McIlroy’s most memorable moments with the team was participating in the MGH and ETHP vaccine street team during summer 2021. Part of her role was approaching individuals on the street and encouraging them to take a vaccine.
“It was so satisfying when you could find half a dozen people who would never have been vaccinated otherwise,” she said. “Often, they work six days a week, they don’t speak English as a first language or they’re frightened by the vaccination process. We were very down to earth, with this clattering cart coming down the street, approaching people where they live and work to really make the process as easy, safe and convenient as possible.”
Registered Practical Nurse, Michael Garron Hospital
Last year, Bensan took her first nursing job as a vaccinator at MGH and ETHP’s clinics. After studying nursing in the Philippines, she moved to Canada and was able to obtain her license in 2021 as an Ontario Registered Practical Nurse (RPN).
Glazel works four days per week at MGH and ETHP’s vaccine clinics, most often at the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub.
Glazel believes her purpose in life is to help others, which translates well to her role at the clinics. While skilled in the practical aspects of the job, she also has the opportunity to comfort patients who may be experiencing uncertainty or anxiety about getting the vaccine.
Glazel shares the story of a father who brought his son into the clinic to get vaccinated. The father was concerned about his son’s fear of needles, and at first, the child wouldn’t take the vaccine. “I made sure he was comfortable and I reassured him that I won't administer the vaccine if he's not ready,” she says.
Once she got the okay, Glazel gave him the vaccine and the child confirmed he hadn’t felt anything. “The dad started crying. Knowing that his son was protected, it made him so happy,” she says. “Ever since I started working with MGH, I’ve been inspired and motivated to come to work to spread kindness to everyone in the community, but I got even more inspired when I saw the father's reaction.”
For Glazel, MGH and ETHP’s vaccine clinics are a hopeful space, because she knows that her work is helping the community eventually return to some sense of normal.
“There have been a lot of challenges these past two years, a lot of families who have not seen each other due to COVID,” she says. “I’m very honoured to be a part of this team because I know that we are bringing hope to the community.”
Technical Associate, IT Services, Michael Garron Hospital
In December 2020, when MGH and ETHP launched their vaccine campaign, a small team of IT professionals was hired to support the clinics, including al-Mamum.
Without well-functioning hardware, the clinics could not run smoothly, and Al-Mamum’s job is to ensure that the technology devices at the clinics are in good order.
“We make sure all the iPads are fully charged; the printers, laptops and internet are working properly; and that we have no technology issues with the staff who are working there,” al-Mamun says.
Clinic staff use iPads to access the Ontario government’s COVAX database, where they can check health card information, record vaccines and send confirmation emails. Laptops are used by clinic leadership staff for their day-to-day work, and by child life specialists, who use videos and games as a distraction technique for children receiving the vaccine.
Each morning before the clinic opens, al-Mamum or one of his colleagues arrive at the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub to ensure all devices are charged and ready to be deployed. Some of the devices stay on-site at the clinic, while others are picked up by staff working at our other clinics.
Every day, one team member stays on site at the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub, while the rest are stationed at MGH’s IT office, ready to provide support to the rest of the community clinics.
“At the smaller clinics or pop-up locations, if we can solve the problem over the phone, we do. If not, we go there physically,” al-Mamun says.
Al-Mamum says he is proud to be a part of MGH’s clinic team. “When you work at a vaccine clinic, you feel involved in the community and you’re helping people improve their knowledge of the vaccine and access health.”
Kevin Di Ciacca
Manager, Protection Services, Fire and Life Safety and Emergency Procedures, Michael Garron Hospital
At MGH, the safety of patients and staff is paramount, and this extends to all community vaccine clinics.
Under the oversight of Ciacca, MGH has an in-house team of protection agents who work on-site at the hospital. In addition, the hospital contracts additional security guards, who work each day at off-site testing and vaccines clinics.
“Their goal is to help with patient flow, ensuring the safety of all the patrons at the clinic and responding to any emergency calls that may arise,” Di Ciacca says.
Twenty-one years ago, Di Ciacca worked as a contracted protection agent at MGH, then known as Toronto East General Hospital, eventually transitioning to the in-house team. Today, he oversees a team of 30 agents who work on-site as MGH, as well as up to 30 contracted staff per day at the vaccine clinics.
“At the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub, our main vaccine clinic, there are at times six to eight security agents working at one time,” he says. The clinic agents, who go through the same annual training program as MGH’s on-site agents, are responsible for managing line-ups, checking patients’ booked appointment status, and ensuring individuals are not blocking store entrances at shopping mall-based clinics.
On a day-to-day basis, Di Ciacca ensures clinics are staffed properly with agents, and helps problem solve and de-escalates any issues that arise on-site. “I’m just a small part of it,” Di Ciacca says, “making sure that as a community-based hospital, we can provide our services for the community in a safe manner while ensuring the safety of all of the staff and patients.”