main hospital building at night


Preparedness in light of a pandemic


No matter the circumstance, Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH) remains committed to providing local patients with exceptional care – always. That said, given the impact of COVID-19, I thought readers might be interested in learning more about our healthcare system. Over the next few months, you can expect this column to reveal a “behind the scenes” look at CCH, bringing some clarity to questions about healthcare. The most obvious question to answer in light of current events is, “How does a hospital prepare to respond to a new virus?”

The answers to this question offer several possible angles to explore. It is safe to say that everyone knows that the primary function at CCH is to provide quality healthcare for our patients. This is of course our main objective, but there are many other aspects of the hospital’s daily work that help us prepare for, and respond to, a global pandemic.

We work in a cycle of continual improvement and preparation. Emergency preparedness is actually something the hospital does regularly, and has done for years, with an Emergency Response Committee responsible for developing plans, training, and drills. Responding to emergencies is the nature of much of our business; it always has been.

During “normal” times, many types of emergencies or unplanned incidents are practiced, and prepared for. Events like a fire, a missing patient, or a multi-vehicle collision with several injuries requiring hospital attention, have premeditated responses with policies and departmental plans. Pandemic planning is also regularly attended to and is, in fact, a requirement for CCH’s quality evaluation process that happens every three to four years.

But, when a new virus is discovered and a global pandemic is declared, how does the hospital respond? In some ways, we were fortunate to have had a two-week head start on COVID-19 preparation when the Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers arrived for quarantine at the NAV Centre back in February. At CCH, we immediately referred to our pandemic plans, initiated our predetermined Incident Management System (IMS), and identified the necessary Personal Protective Equipment for our staff.

Thinking back to those early days, I recall an inspection held at CCH to ensure our environment was safe for staff and patients alike; the assessment went well and we proudly reiterated to the inspection team that, “we’re in the business of emergencies; this is what we do and prepare for regularly. We’ve got this.”

After the global pandemic was declared, we held Incident Management System meetings daily, sometimes even twice a day, to decipher information received from multiple sources. Our Incident Management System is made up of Infection Control specialists, the leadership team and physicians (each experts in their own field). This team pored through information from the Ministry of Health, Eastern Ontario Health Unit, Public Health at the federal level, and at the provincial level, creating our local approach.

The one constant during this time, was change. Testing criteria, presenting symptoms, and areas of travel were all shifting frequently; the virus was new to everyone, not just CCH. We changed our processes often in the beginning, with the constant intention of keeping our staff and patients safe. Our team worked in a nimble fashion, always adjusting as new guidelines were received. We remain incredibly proud of staff and physicians for taking on this immense challenge.

Education and training programs were provided to ensure that staff and physicians felt comfortable and confident in their response to suspect COVID-19 patients, and simulation exercises to practice processes remain in place to this day. COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint, so we will continue to learn and prepare, as the situation evolves.

While we have been fortunate that the number of local cases has been low, CCH must remain vigilant as the only hospital outside of Ottawa in our region with ventilator capacity and expertise. In Marie’s* case, our preparations, planning, and practice proved invaluable, helping her recover from COVID-19 after more than 3 weeks in a coma supported by a ventilator at CCH. We are humbled that she attributes her life to the healthcare teams at our hospital. pasting

The value of preparation can be captured in Aristotle’s famous quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” So, we’ll continue preparing, no matter the circumstance, inspired by our commitment to keep our community healthy and safe.