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Adapting local health care services during COVID-19 crisis

The door to the Ormstown Medical Centre is now locked and, in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the functioning of the busy clinic is very different from its usual day-to-day.
“The medical centre is not actually closed, but we are limiting visits as much as possible to follow government directives,” says Dr. Justin Wight, who suggests the local clinic is now a reflection of what is happening around the world. Patients have been called and most non-essential appointments have been cancelled, with the option to request a phone follow-up. Doctors are increasingly turning to telemedicine as a way of restricting access to the medical centre on a case-by-case basis to only those who need to be seen in person.

As the doors are locked, every patient who comes to the medical centre is now screened, and anyone exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus will not be allowed to enter. Those who do present with symptoms (but are not dangerously ill) will in fact be told to go home and call the provincial government’s COVID-19 toll free number: 1-877-644-4545. From there, patients may be given an appointment to go to the CISSSMO screening clinic to be tested for the virus.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation,” Wight says, noting that health professionals are preparing for the eventuality where the virus spreads to the Valley. The pressure on the medical team in Ormstown is already intense as some members are in quarantine, having recently returned home from travelling outside Canada, or are sick and unable to work due to the new restrictions on anyone showing possible symptoms of COVID-19. When we spoke, Wight was on his 12th straight day of work at the Barrie Memorial Hospital and the Ormstown Medical Centre. Patients are also encouraged to avoid emergency rooms unless immediate treatment is necessary by calling Info Santé or 811 before leaving their home.

The situation is likely to get worse as well, Wight admits, as any day now the provincial government will shift the definition of potential COVID-19 to no longer require those suffering symptoms to have recently returned from travels abroad as well. “Once we have local transmission, travel will be removed [as a criterion],” Wight says, noting this will produce a significant uptick in the number of potential cases being tested.
The Huntingdon Medical Centre is working under the same new conditions. The door is locked but doctors are continuing to treat patients either over the phone or in person provided they have an appointment.

Health COOP services still available

The Family Health Coop in Howick and Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague is working to provide a more limited set of services to its members during this time. The Coop had been located in municipal buildings in both places and as such is not working out of a physical location at this time because all municipal buildings are closed to the public. “We would like to set up in a temporary location in each municipality,” says nurse Anne-Marie (Amy) Goodall, who has been in touch with officials in both Howick and Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague in search of empty buildings and support to help cover rent. “We are working on it and hope to have this in place by the beginning of the month.”

In the meantime, the nurses at the Family Health Coop have been making calls and checking in with members, while also ensuring that all calls to the Coop are answered. “If it is something that we feel we can help with, we take some action,” says Goodall; otherwise, patients are being referred to services elsewhere, and if showing symptoms of the virus are being told to call the government’s toll-free line. “The CISSSMO has done a very good job of telling us what to do,” Goodall says.

The Coop is also still offering blood test services by appointment for the standard fee of $15 for members (membership costs $10 and is good for life, and patients then pay for the services they use); however the number of tests being done is limited to 10 per day. As such, the Coop will be working to catch up on any appointments that had to be cancelled due to the measures imposed to restrict the spread of the virus. To reach the Family Health Coop, call 514-773-7854.

The Barrie Memorial Hospital is no longer offering blood testing on site due to government measures; however, the laboratory remains open. The CLSCs are still providing this service but only by appointment. Walk-in services are suspended with the safety of health-care providers in mind and to ensure social distancing practices are respected.

The Hemmingford and Region Health Coop is closed until at least the end of March. The Coop does not have the necessary resources to manage any kind of contamination by the virus. Members of the staff are listening to messages left by callers and will respond if patients have any questions about their files. For all other health-related questions, the Coop is advising its members to contact Info-Santé.

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