COVID doesn’t rest, neither does the team

June 4, 2020
COVID-19 swabs and test kit

Mobile team tests thousands for COVID in North York

Testing for COVID is critical to diagnosing and isolating individuals with the virus. Testing centres, like North York General Hospital’s (NYGH) Branson Assessment Centre, provides the community with barrier-free access (no appointment or referral needed) to COVID testing regardless if individuals are experiencing symptoms. But for long-term care (LTC) residents and other people living in congregated settings such as shelters or group homes, it has been critical to find ways of bringing testing directly to them, especially if there is an outbreak where they live.

A portrait of Dr. Rebecca Stoller smiling and wearing a white shirt.
Dr. Rebecca Stoller

For the past two months, NYGH’s mobile testing team has been crisscrossing the community to support COVID testing to large groups. More than 24 trips have been made to local refugee shelters, LTC, and retirement homes, with about 3,500 individuals swabbed.

Led by Dr. Rebecca Stoller, family medicine physician with the North York Family Health Team and Carla Moran-Venegas, Clinical Coordinator in the NYGH emergency department, the mobile testing team is an example of one of the many ways health providers in North York have come together to tackle the novel coronavirus. This work is in addition to Dr. Stoller and Carla opening and running the Branson COVID Assessment Centre at 555 Finch Ave. West.

“Just as the COVID crisis started to peak we pulled together a testing team made up of volunteers from NYGH’s emergency department and family doctors in the community,” says Carla.

According to Dr. Stoller it took them less than 24 hours to get mobilized before going into the first long-term care home and since then, they’ve developed a system for providing this service to the community.

LTC homes and other organizations can request testing for their residents or clients online. Once an intake form is received, either Dr. Stoller or Carla reaches out to do a needs assessment to understand the number of tests needed and how the facility is set up. They also developed an introduction package with documents, information and visuals about the test to help prepare residents and clients ahead time.

Administering the tests takes two physicians per floor to ensure everything is done safely and efficiently. The process also includes someone from the facility working with each pair of physicians to introduce them to patients and provide a comforting presence. 

Carla Moran-Vanegas standing next to a sign with a rainbow design.
Carla Moran-Vanegas

“We know it can be unsettling for elderly people to see us come into their residence, to be honest we look like space aliens with all of our personal protective equipment,” says Carla. “That’s why an equally important aspect of what we do is ensuring individuals feel the same kind of compassionate care they would normally receive if they came to us.”

Since COVID doesn’t rest, neither does the team. Mobile testing is available seven days a week, so physicians in the community sign-up to be on stand-by to ensure a team can be deployed whenever they are needed.

“The support for this work has been incredible so far, and the collaboration between the hospital, family physicians, emergency physicians and long-term care has fostered new community partnerships that will further improve care coordination in the future,” says Dr. Stoller. “We’ve been part of a very valuable experience, working side-by-side with staff in long-term care and shelters to bring testing services directly to the patients and clients in their own environments”.