Meet Barbara: The first patient cared for in Sunnybrook’s Mobile Health Unit

By Lindsay Smith

Barbara Alleyne was the first patient admitted to the Mobile Health Unit (MHU) at Sunnybrook on April 26, 2021. She’d been recovering from COVID-19 at another Toronto hospital, and felt nervous about moving to the MHU.

“I was very scared to go,” she says. “You don’t know what to expect.”


The MHU was erected in one of the parking lots at Sunnybrook’s Bayview campus during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to help ease pressures on the health-care system. It is 2,088 square metres and resembles a military field hospital.

Barbara says she was a little scared about continuing her COVID-19 recovery in a field hospital, but her fears were short-lived. From the moment she got in the ambulance, she started to feel more at ease.

Barbara’s arrival at the Mobile Health Unit on April 26, 2021.

“The ambulance guys were great; they made me very comfortable,” she says. “They brought me over to Sunnybrook, and it was a great experience. Everyone was … very inviting.”

Barbara says she joked with family and friends that she felt as though she was on the set of the movie E.T., or the TV show M.A.S.H., but the setting didn’t impact the care she received: she says her care team was attentive and upbeat, keeping her spirits up while she was in the MHU.

Barbara. . Photo credit: Kevin Van Paassen / Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

And Barbara’s condition did improve. The care provided by doctors, nurses and other members of the interprofessional team, such as physiotherapists, helped Barbara regain her strength and improve her oxygen levels.

But what really stands out to Barbara from her time in the MHU is how her care team went out of their way to make her comfortable.

For example, while Barbara was in the MHU she had hot flashes. Without ice available, her nurses had to find another solution to help her cool down.

“They took water in water bottles and froze it,” she says. “The nurses were really resourceful and came up with something for me.”

There was even a welcome package with some personal care items, a word search and a colouring book. Barbara says she was a little skeptical of the colouring book and word search at first, but they actually helped her feel a little better.

“When I started doing the word search and the colouring, I calmed down to a point where I could breathe normally,” she says, adding she has continued the colouring at home because it has been so calming for her.

Doris Ho, a registered nurse who has worked for Sunnybrook since 2016, says those kinds of gestures can make patients more comfortable, especially in a unique setting.

“It’s just getting creative with your resources,” she says. “That’s one way for us to try and make it better.”

The quality of patient care is a testament to the team of people working in the MHU, Doris says.

“The team’s been really good. Everyone’s so helpful,” she says. “It’s a team effort.”

And, to Barbara, the teamwork and commitment to patient care were evident.

“They did a great job,” she says. “Their job is so important to what’s going on in the world right now, and they’re the bravest people I know.”

Barbara is home now and while she still battling some symptoms, she continues to improve. And she’s grateful for her care team at Sunnybrook and the role they played in her COVID-19 recovery process.

“I thank them for taking care of me and just keeping my spirits uplifted,” she says. “I just really appreciate them helping me to get better.”

With a recovering health-care system, operations within the Mobile Health Unit winded down over the Victoria Day weekend and no patients are currently in the unit. The facility will be maintained for the foreseeable future, and should the need arise, MHU teams will be mobilized.

Lindsay Smith is a Jr. Digital Content Creator at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.