The world has changed dramatically in the past two weeks.
I never would have imagined a time where 90% of our workforce is working remotely; a time where you only leave home to get essentials like groceries, or a time where the only way to see loved ones is through a computer screen. And yet in a very short time, we have reached this place, and come to accept it as our new - albeit temporary - normal.
If you listen to the radio, scroll through social media or read the newspaper, COVID-19 has quickly become the one and only thing we’re talking about. Many are scared, and there is good reason to feel this way. As I write this, we sit at the precipice. We could see the virus overwhelm our healthcare system, with a disastrous impact on our population. Or, together (but apart), we could flatten the curve and see the virus progress in such a way that we can manage the impact of its spread.
And with the high levels of fear and uncertainty that now characterize our day to day, I am reminded of a quote from Fred Rogers from the TV show Mister Rogers Neighbourhood:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
Over the past week I have been struggling with what to write on my blog. The precautions that we’re taking, what we know about the virus, how we’re shifting our operations within the Faculty of Health Sciences; all of these things have been changing at such a steady pace that I figured whatever I might put down on paper would be out of date by the time it published.
So today, I am going to heed the advice of Fred Rogers’ mother, Nancy Rogers, and use my blog as a forum to point out some of the many helpers in our community who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, knowing that the closure of schools and daycares would put a strain on the healthcare workforce, a group of medical students quickly organized a system where healthcare staff could request help with childcare, grocery pick-up and other services, and paired them with medical, nursing, OT and PT students who would volunteer to do it. Shikha Patel, one of the lead organizers from the Aesculapian Society, told me that to date, 73 students have signed up and 90 requests from healthcare providers have been received. From this, they have been able to pair students with 35 families to provide support that is allowing our healthcare professionals to continue to work on the frontlines.
Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, our Director of Nursing, put a call out on Twitter this week for acts of #intentionalkindness. Many of our staff, faculty and students responded with small but meaningful acts of kindness. Picking up groceries for others who are in quarantine, cards and gifts to acknowledge the hard work of colleagues, supportive calls to friends through virtual means and picking up litter in the neighbourhood are just a few of the things that Erna’s callout inspired.
Responding to the need for more personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals, Dr. Hailey Hobbs found 3D printer plans online and worked with Jeremy Babcock, in our Clinical Simulation Centre, to start printing masks and other PPE. The initiative has now grown to include some of our medical students, residents, members of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and St. Lawrence College. The group is now the recipient of several 3D printers that have been lent by the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, and Dr. Hobbs reported to me yesterday that they are now able to produce up to 500 masks and 100 face shields per week. Pictured at the top (from left to right) are Megan Singh; Zuhaib Mir; Jeremy Babcock; Matthew Snow; and Cesia Quintero who are all involved in the project.
Addressing another shortage, Queen’s scientists have started investigating the possibility of producing hand sanitizer with potential application in a healthcare setting.
A group of our medical students are working with KFLA Public Health on screening individuals, including recent travelers.
At a time when the most marginalized people in our community need more support than ever, Tom Heneghan and Jon Dunning, Occupational Therapy students in the class of 2020 are collecting donations for Home Base Housing, and coordinating the delivery and drop off of food donations.
And on the side, some of our very busy staff and faculty members, like Dr. Michelle Gibson, are addressing the need for a steady supply of blood by donating their own, and encouraging others to do the same.
Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization (SEAMO) has pulled together 400 care packages for their member physicians to let them know that they are being thought of during this challenging time.
Our clinical departments have sprung to action, preparing for COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. Departments such as emergency medicine, critical care, family medicine, medicine and psychiatry are all going to great lengths to ensure that they are well prepared for all scenarios. Many of our staff and faculty members are already working on the frontlines, keeping our healthcare system running while putting their own wellbeing at risk. And many of those of our faculty members who are not clinically active are putting themselves on the list to be redeployed should the need for additional healthcare support arise.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the unsung heroes of our Faculty. There are countless staff members who are helping in the background. Whether it is Peter MacNeil who, along with his team, who is supporting the technology for the delivery of our programming online as we deliver 50+ classes online just this week. Or Klodiana Kolomitro, who, along with her team in the Office of Professional Development and Educational Scholarship, has dropped everything to support our faculty members and students as we deliver curriculum fully online for the first time. Or our clinical secretaries, who are continuing to work with our patients on a day to day basis. Or Kevin McKegney and his team, who are keeping everyone safe by managing our facilities and ensuring that all runs smoothly as our research labs and facilities are put on pause, and our workforce largely shifts to working at home.
All of these people – and many many more who I haven’t named – are allowing our faculty to continue to put our mission into action as we train the next generation of healthcare professionals in unprecedented circumstances. But beyond that, they are supporting what I believe to be the biggest asset that Canada has: our public healthcare system. Each and every act of help is preparing us to handle what could be the biggest public health emergency of our lifetime.
So, thank you to all of the helpers who I have mentioned, and to everyone else out there who is making a difference. You are reminding us that when scary things happen, we can always look for the helpers.
Please share your stories of helpers – big acts or small – by commenting on the blog. I would usually say, stop by the Macklem House, my door is always open; but actually, since we are all working remotely for the next two weeks at least, my virtual door is always open…. you can drop by anytime by emailing me at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org.