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“It was the fight of our lives”

July 2, 2020   ·   0 Comments

The call came just after 9 p.m. on April 9.

Stacey MacKenzie and her coworkers sprang into action, knowing there would be a long ahead.

This long evening, which the four staff members were already braced for, turned into a 32-hour shift.

It was, in Ms. MacKenzie’s words, the start of “the fight of our lives” and that 32 hours of non-stop work was just the beginning.

When the phone rang that evening, it was to report that Chartwell Aurora (formerly Resthaven) had its first positive case of COVID-19.

They worked tirelessly to ensure separate entrances were designated for staff, and that residents were cohorted to prevent the spread of disease.

As a Director of Care specializing in Infection Control, Ms. MacKenzie knew what had to be done, but they didn’t know just what they were dealing with.

“As we went through the six weeks of the virus, we realized that every day was a new day and it changed us,” she says. “It changed our way of thinking. It changed the way we approached things. It was just constant change.”

Staff assigned to the one unit experiencing an outbreak of the virus had no choice but to work double and triple shifts. They had to leave their homes, moving into hotels in order to protect their families.

“My shift never ended,” she recalls. “I was working 24/7 for 49 days straight of COVID plus four days leading up to it and two days after,” says Ms. MacKenzie, a mom of five. “My days consisted of, at minimum, twelve hours and up to eighteen hours. It was constant communication with Public Health, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health. All my families [I care for] had my personal cell phone number and they were able to call for updates at any time of the day. It never ended. It was updating everyone on a regular basis but also being there for my staff and my residents.

“As we started to lose residents, we realized the complexity of the virus and it took an emotional toll on all of us.”

A particularly trying time was the day Chartwell Aurora lost four residents to the virus over the course of 24 hours. As staff, it was incumbent on them to be there and support each other. That was a tall order. While being in the trenches made this close-knit group of staff even tighter, they couldn’t hug each other when the emotions became too much, nor could they provide a comforting pat on the back.

It was a new world for the duration of the outbreak and during that time staff tried to maintain open communication with residents who might have been left feeling distressed or even confused by measures put in place to combat the pandemic. With masks, shields and other forms of personal protective equipment obscuring once familiar faces, the staff printed out large pictures of their faces to stick to their PPE so residents could identify who was who.

But these printed-out faces were among the few signs of what once was.

“Many policies and procedures had to change in order to maintain the virus on that one floor and protect the rest of the building and everyone came together,” says Ms. MacKenzie. “The kindness, compassion, dedication, perseverance was absolutely unbelievable. It was really nice, too, to know we had support from our community partners and that was something that on the days we didn’t think we could get through…kept us going.”

But, after 48 days, they did indeed get through it.

Before the Public Health Unit formally declared the outbreak over last month, staff were encouraged by the signs but once it was official, staff allowed themselves – and residents – time to celebrate.

“We filled the elevator with balloons on all shifts and as we opened the elevators the balloons came out,” Ms. MacKenzie recalls with a smile. “We brought in champagne – fake, of course, because we were at work – and we played ‘We Are the Champions’ through the whole speaker system. We cried, we laughed, and it was the fight of our lives. It was also great to finally be at home, hug my husband, have real champagne at home, have a family dinner – it was incredible.”

And while it was the fight of their lives, would she do it again if she had to?

“Absolutely, 100 per cent,” she says without a moment’s hesitation.

“Going forward, even though we’re out of COVID, we’re still in pandemic mode, so everyone (staff) can now go onto the third floor now, which we couldn’t do before, but there is still screening in and out, we’re still wearing our universal masking, we’re still social distancing. We still have amazing staff we have maintained, so we’re above compliment. We are ready again.

“They talk about the second wave. Do I want it to happen based on the last appearance? Definitely not. Are we ready? We are. We learned a lot through the last process, so we’re ready. I hope it doesn’t come, but, if it does, we’ll tackle it.”

By Brock Weir



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