We are at an interesting time in our pandemic response. Months of closures have us itching to get back to normal, and a gradual decline of COVID-19 cases in Ontario suggest it’s safe to carefully reopen. This is particularly important in health care where health services such as surgeries, cancer treatment and chronic disease management have been delayed.
As a hospital it presents us — as well as the entire healthcare system — with the challenge of balancing the care of patients while keeping an eye on a potential second wave or ‘spike’. In theory, this sounds straightforward. Putting it into practice requires a great deal of thought, coordination and innovation. In many ways the task of re-opening is much more difficult than the process of shutting down that we undertook in March.
Since early May, teams across North York General Hospital and our broader community have been collaborating to gradually increase services thoughtfully and equitably. A meticulous recovery plan was put forward to the regional health authority, and on June 5, we were one of the first hospitals in the region to have our plan approved. Since then we have increased the number of operating rooms in use five-fold and reopened several outpatient clinics and services at both the hospital and our new ambulatory space on Champagne Drive. Our next milestones were welcoming some visitors back to our long-term care home and the hospital, and today on July 6 we have learners rejoin the NYGH team.
While it may feel like “business as usual”, we are operating in a newly defined normal. Every step of the patient journey – from the moment they receive notice of an appointment straight through to their return home – has been carefully planned to reduce unnecessary in-person visits, conserve PPE (masks, gowns, gloves, etc.) and ensure the safety of all. This has included launching a new on-line pre-surgery screening tool, encouraging patients to use MyChart to access their health records, and continuing to use virtual care where it makes sense to do so. There is no doubt that virtual care which became the mainstay of clinical care delivery in the last few months will remain critically important.
Physically, we have adjusted our space to streamline the flow of patients, visitors and staff into the hospital and to continue our vigilance on stopping the spread of COVID-19. This means limited points of entry and exit and minimizing the waiting times in public areas when possible.
Our pandemic response included thinking about the needs of the entire North York community, and so too has our recovery plans. We are continuing to work with North York Toronto Health Partners, our Ontario Health Team, to ensure integrated care – from hospital back to the community. The pandemic has reinforced our belief in the power of the whole community working together to keep each other safe and healthy, and we will continue to build on this momentum.
Finally, we are increasing our services while keeping an eye on what may be on the horizon. It is widely believed that this Fall will bring the dual challenge of COVID-19 and flu. As part of our plan we have embedded flexibility to allow us to quickly respond to a changing situation. While we sincerely hope to stay on a positive trajectory, we are prepared for what may be inevitable slowdowns and pauses. With hot spots of cases recently emerging across the province, it shows us just how quickly the virus can return and the critical balance we have to maintain.
Our pandemic response was unquestionably a learning, and so will be our recovery. We are open to trying new things and will take the time to assess what is working, and be willing to change what is not. The North York community has long counted on us for exceptional, compassionate care, and we remain open to listening and learning in our journey ahead.
President and CEO
July 6, 2020