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'Incredible what happened,' says Eastern Health of staff dedication in Blizzard 2020

An ambulance with flashing lights in centre city St. John's Sunday, which had to wait for a vehicle to move out of its way. Eastern Health says it’s imperative for non essential traffic to obey the state of emergency rules.
An ambulance with flashing lights in centre city St. John's Sunday, which had to wait for a vehicle to move out of its way. Eastern Health says it’s imperative for non essential traffic to obey the state of emergency rules. The Telegram

Many health care staff from doctors and nurses to kitchen and housekeeping staff and other fields went to work Thursday ahead of their Friday shifts and the looming blizzard and worked straight through till Sunday when they finally got to change up staff at Eastern Health facilities.

“It was like a MASH (wartime mobile army surgical hospital) unit. They did whatever they could to come together…. That is the kind of thing that makes you feel good about work,” said Judy O’keefe, vice-president, clinical services for Eastern Health.

The blizzard dumped some 70-90 centimetres on metro with massive winds all day Friday through Saturday morning.

“People were so positive. They just helped each other out. There was laughter, they worked together as a really good team, whether it was surgeons or housekeeping staff cleaning a room.”

The kitchen staff — helped out by others pitching in served meals three times a day to patients and staff, as well as family members visiting and outpatients who were stuck in the facilities once the state of emergency was put in place.

Paramedics had to go out throughout the blizzard, guided by plows, but business as normal.

St. Clare's Hospital in centre city St. John's had its main entrance closed during the state of emergency, keeping traffic contained to the emergency entrance. THE TELEGRAM
St. Clare's Hospital in centre city St. John's had its main entrance closed during the state of emergency, keeping traffic contained to the emergency entrance. THE TELEGRAM

“I have never seen anything like this before …. That’s a calling for people with that level of commitment,” she said of all health care workers.

“Areas like critical care, paramedicine and the OR, (and) very specialized areas, they worked extremely long hours. Same thing in the nursing homes. … (Many) are just getting to leave the buildings today.”

Social media, including posts from Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador president Debbie Forward, Health Minister John Haggie, patients and family members have been celebrating health care workers since Friday.

Nursing home staff are said to have punched in rotations as long as 72 hours.

People came to work on snowshoes, and walked through snow drifts several feet high to main roads get to catch rides.

The Miller Centre alone had 65 staff staying at the facility.

Food was kept in supply by vendors delivering what the health care facilities ran low on.

“People just did whatever. There were runners running supplies, pharmacies putting together medications and staff running to pick up or drop off,” O’Keefe said.

“Incredible, incredible what happened.”

Community health nurses went out in the storm to deal with urgent situations.

“I am so grateful to everybody and how they have risen to the occasion,” O’Keefe said. “This was phenomenal.”

The hospitals had gone ahead with some non urgent procedures Friday based on people who had travelled in and were prepped or based on case by case factors.

Some patients who would have been discharged had to be kept in because of the weather situation and lack of snow clearing.

Staff took rest periods on mattresses and couches or whenever possible for them to lie down in order not to be fatigued.

“It was like a MASH (wartime mobile army surgical hospital) unit. They did whatever they could to come together…. That is the kind of thing that makes you feel good about work.” 

They also fielded calls from worried family members of patients and nursing home residents, and provided emotional support to patients concerned about their homes and family, O’Keefe noted.

Eastern Health will operate on an urgent and emergent basis Monday and Tuesday, so far, and a team is focused on recovery efforts and a plan to catch up on volume of missed procedures and tests.

One thing many in the metro have commented on is the amount of drivers on the road. People were allowed out in circumstances such as getting to pharmacies or if they were in emergency work.

However, O’keefe stressed the importance of people staying off the roads if not cleared to do so, as it impedes emergency vehicles like ambulances.

“It’s critical,” she said.

Eastern Health health-care facilities and other sites with 24-hour operations continue to remain open, and emergency services continue to be available at all sites. While routine travel is not permitted during a state of emergency, all health-care staff and emergency personnel who can get to and from work safely in the City of St. John’s, Mount Pearl, Conception Bay South, Torbay, Portugal Cove St. Philips, Pouch Cove, and Paradise are permitted to travel.

barbara.sweet@thetelegram.com


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