EDITOR’S NOTE: The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic March 11 – six months ago. To mark the milestone, we will be publishing a series of stories over the next few days about how COVID-19 has changed our world. Today, we talk to officials from Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.
It’s been “a long six months” for those who work in the health-care world.
On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus, COVID-19, a global pandemic. For many on the front lines, it seems much longer than half a year.
But as fatigue around the virus and its implications sets in, local officials are thankful that, for the most part, Orillia has weathered the storm well.
Carmine Stumpo, the president and CEO of Orillia’s Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH), is “very proud” of how the community, generally, and hospital staff, specifically, have stepped up to meet the challenges presented by the global pandemic.
“The success is directly attributable to the community. Every citizen of Orillia should be proud of that,” said Stumpo.
Orillia has the lowest incidence rate of the virus of any urban area in the region, which is “very encouraging,” Stumpo says.
According to statistics from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, there have been just 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Orillia over the past six months. Of those, two died, while 17 recovered.
While the numbers have been modest, the efforts to keep the virus at bay have been monumental.
Stumpo said the leadership team at the hospital was well prepared, has been flexible as circumstances changed and acted quickly, in concert with public health authorities, to keep the community as safe – and virus-free – as possible.
“I’m very proud of the way the hospital responded … with everyone really pitching in in different ways, supporting the effort, coming up with creative solutions to work in this ‘new normal’ … it’s been an incredible team effort,” said Stumpo.
But it has not been easy. The long hours, coupled with the anxiety surrounding the unknowns and uncertainty, have taken a toll.
“I want to acknowledge it does come at a cost,” said Stump. “Yes, we’re employees, but we’re also community members, family members. It has been six long months.”
While he could not provide specifics about how many staff might be directly impacted by the stress of the pandemic, he said an “open dialogue about the impact of the pandemic on the staff” is encouraged.
“Overall, I’m exceptionally proud of how people responded, came together and continue to serve the community through all the uncertainty,” he said.
The effort has also come with a substantial monetary cost.
The unanticipated costs and the unbudgeted loss of revenue will translate into a loss that is “in the millions of dollars,” Stumpo said.
For example, the hospital had not budgeted to create a new assessment centre, which required some up-front costs and massive staffing costs so that the drive-through facility can be operational on a daily basis.
He said more than 230 individuals came to the OSMH assessment centre on Tuesday – a record number for a single day. Since it opened in March, more than 12,000 people have been tested at the facility.
“That’s a new service we are supporting,” said Stumpo.
He said, early on, many employees were redeployed and others placed on stand-by as ‘regular’ services were put on hold.
Putting operations and other services on pause meant a drop in revenue in a variety of ways, such as parking, which generates money for services at OSMH.
On top of that, the hospital, like all hospitals, has seen a “dramatic” spike in costs related to the need for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for its staff.
“Our motivation has always been to keep staff safe. It comes at a cost and we know that,” he said, adding now that most services have resumed, the “burn rate” of PPE is even higher, forcing expenses up more.
‘The impact, financially, is so widespread,” said Stumpo, noting hospital officials are working with the province and others to “identify funding opportunities” to offset the costs.
He also noted some funding is related to services and, for example, efficiency, which is also impacted by the pandemic. He explained how an operation, in the COVID era, takes longer due to the extra precautions required. That diminishes efficiency which could translate into less funding than anticipated.
As a result of those factors and the unknowns around available provincial funding, there is “not absolute clarity” about how the financial situation will be resolved.
Stumpo knows it will likely get worse before it gets better. The hospital has not taken a breather from the initial surge and is busy preparing for a second wave while continuing to deal with the “normal” operations of a busy hospital.
Stumpo said confirmed cases of the virus have been rising provincially over the past two weeks but it’s unclear if this is the beginning of a second wave or “sporadic surges” associated with re-opening the economy.
“You can be assured as schools open up, as fall activities begin to resume, that the numbers will go up,” said Stumpo. “We’re certainly planning for it.”
He said the hospital’s “primary-care providers, pediatricians and others are working closely with public health to keep students safe.”
He said OSMH continues to also work with local long-term care homes and retirement homes to keep those vulnerable populations safe. The work is ongoing.
Stumpo said the hospital is “looking at the structure” of their response to date, “what worked well and implementing changes” that need to be made should a second wave hit the area.
“All that work is ongoing,” he said, noting health-care officials were “reactive at the height of the pandemic, but now are taking more of a preventative role looking forward.”
He concedes there is a fatigue factor associated with the virus and the uncertainties it spawns.
“We talk about fatigue in the hospital on a regular basis,” said Stumpo, noting there is a “focus on how to keep our staff well.”
“Learning to live with COVID is important because it’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” he said. “It’s important to focus more on living with COVID.”
He stressed it’s up to everyone to do the things necessary – hand-washing, maintaining physical distance, wearing a face covering in public places – to keep the virus at bay.
Now is not the time to let down our guard, Stumpo warns.
“We should all be proud of how we have handled this and use that as an exemplar of what we need to do. Now is not the time to slow down,” wanted Stumpo.