Screener Josephine Davey-Young, RPN Emily Ciraco, OHS manager Mary Richardson and RN Brittany Orenchuk.
From left, screener Josephine Davey-Young, RPN Emily Ciraco, OHS manager Mary Richardson and RN Brittany Orenchuk.

MGH’s Occupational Health and Safety Unit marks reaching more than 1,100 swabs at COVID-19 staff clinic

By Lucy Lau

Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) celebrated reaching more than 1,100 swabs at its COVID-19 staff clinic in August — a milestone that demonstrates the hard work the occupational health and safety (OHS) team has done to keep MGH’s workforce safe during the pandemic.

“I’m so proud of how our team has come together,” says Mary Richardson, manager of OHS at MGH. “These folks have hit the ground running and they’ve worked day and night to mitigate positive COVID-19 cases and ensure all our staff are taken care of.”

Situated on the hospital’s basement floor, the COVID-19 staff clinic was launched on March 16 as part of MGH’s pandemic response plan.

It serves as the COVID-19 assessment and testing site for all members of MGH’s workforce and is where staff are redirected if they report experiencing symptoms or are potentially exposed to COVID-19.

For the past three months, the team operating the clinic has been comprised of OHS staff, as well as registered nurses (RN) and registered practical nurses (RPN) from MGH’s nursing resource team (NRT) and other units at the hospital. Screeners and clerks also joined the clinic.

Together, the group has implemented processes and protocols that protect the privacy of staff while ensuring they’re assessed and tested for COVID-19 as efficiently as possible.

They’ve swabbed as many as 40 staff a day during the peak of the pandemic, documenting test results and communicating with employees who were in self-isolation after their tests so they could be updated on their health and work status.

“It’s a continuous process from the moment the staff member enters the clinic all the way to documentation,” says Brittany Orenchuk, an RN from the NRT who was deployed to OHS and now works as an occupational health practitioner at the COVID-19 staff clinic.

Screener Lydia Tony, RPN Jay Bernardo, Desiree Lafontaia, RPN Agata Bieguniak and RPN Christie Onate.
From left, screener Lydia Tony and RPNs Jay Bernardo, Daisiree Lafontaine, Agata Bieguniak and Christie Onate.

The COVID-19 staff clinic team also collect and manage data related to positive cases, reporting this regularly to leadership teams at MGH, Toronto Public Health and various government bodies. In addition, they answer phone calls on the COVID-19 staff hotline, where they address questions and concerns related to COVID-19 from members of MGH’s workforce.

“The team has had to be experts in not only nursing but the standard operating procedures and protocols that our infectious disease physicians have put in place, so they can answer any questions our staff may have,” says Mary.

By caring for their colleagues, the OHS team has also become a source of comfort for staff feeling anxious or concerned about working during the pandemic. For Agata Bieguniak, a RPN who was redeployed to the COVID-19 staff clinic from the Cardiac Integrated Unit (CIU), it’s a duty she doesn’t take lightly.

“I have learned that no matter how much we know as healthcare providers, being on the ‘patient’ side is never easy,” she says. “Whether you’re familiar with hospital protocols and practices or not, when you are suddenly the one receiving care as opposed to providing care, it can be an overwhelming experience.”

For Brittany, it’s been one of the most rewarding parts of her role. “It’s been great to be able to support staff who are nervous, especially during this pandemic,” she says. “We’ve received feedback that we’ve helped put our colleagues’ minds at ease and relieved some of the tension and anxiety they’re feeling.”

As some redeployed staff, like Agata, return to their home units at MGH, a number of nurses from NRT will remain dedicated to OHS.

This includes Brittany, who says she feels well equipped to continue supporting her colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic given the groundwork that’s been laid by the OHS team since March.

“The physicians in occupational health and infection prevention and control, along with our supervisors and managers, have been incredible,” she says. “And we’ve really come together as a team to ensure our colleagues have the support and answers they need.”

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