By Altaf Stationwala
This past year, we have seen the health care system manage inconceivable challenges brought on by a global pandemic. We have also seen incredible achievements and daily examples of what the human spirit can accomplish when presented with those challenges.
As President and CEO of Mackenzie Health, I know how dedicated our health care workers have been since the start of the pandemic. In the early days of COVID-19, this was a largely unknown virus. Despite being scared for themselves and their families, staff came to work each day to provide the care their patients needed. That unrelenting commitment continues a year later, no matter how hard it has been.
The flexibility and nimbleness of our staff has never been more apparent than it was in January 2021 when our team at Mackenzie Health was asked to step up to support the health care system as a whole and change the way we planned to open our long-awaited second hospital.
Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital was intended to open on February 7 as Mackenzie Health’s second full-service community hospital, serving Ontario’s western York Region. It’s Canada’s first smart hospital and the first net new hospital to be built in the province in more than 30 years. Instead of fully opening the hospital the way we intended, we opened with an exclusive focus on creating additional ICU and acute care capacity to address the surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario.
A snapshot in time: January 2021
In early January, COVID-19 cases in Ontario were rising at an alarming rate and ICUs across the province were reaching near capacity. Provincial modelling was suggesting that we would reach 500 COVID-19 patients in the ICU by mid-January. There was also news of new variants that had the potential to increase case counts in the community which, in turn, would further impact hospital capacity.
Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital, along with many other hospitals across the province, has been able to experience temporary capacity relief thanks to the province’s Incident Management System (IMS) structure which was introduced in November 2020. It was created to help hospitals across the province with capacity pressures by supporting the movement of patients to hospitals with the available resources to care for them. By the end of January, we had transferred more than 70 patients from Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital to neighbouring hospitals for care.
The province had already activated field hospitals and was looking at other unconventional options that wouldn’t provide the optimal patient experience. Understanding the capacity pressures facing our health care system during this unprecedented time, the Government of Ontario approached Mackenzie Health to provide a unique system solution for the province with a different type of opening for our second hospital. We were proud to step up in this way. We had benefited greatly from the IMS solution, and it was our turn to return the favour.
Making the pivot
Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital was scheduled to open as a full-service hospital on February 7, 2021. It was purposefully built with mostly single patient rooms that allow for enhanced infection prevention and control protocols and technological advances to support the patient experience. It is also ideally located right off Highway 400, in close proximity to the hardest hit regions in the province: York, Peel and Toronto.
As our team was in the final stretch getting ready to fully open our new hospital to the community – training more than 3,000 staff across both hospital sites, learning new work flows and testing thousands of pieces of equipment – they were asked to make a shift and change course.
Over three weeks leading up to February 7, staff and physicians made final preparations to the critical care and general medicine floors of Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital.
Since the Emergency Department at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital will be closed until the surge is adequately addressed, we were able to redeploy some surgical teams to work in our general medicine units, and some Emergency Department nurses were redeployed to support critical care patients. A key priority was to ensure staff were properly trained and prepared in these new roles. We also had to develop and implement a strong Human Resources communication strategy to support the hundreds of pieces of correspondence necessary to address employment contracts and redeployment assignments as well as continued engagement with our union partners.
The staff at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital also stepped up to support the effort. They made sure that patient transfers to Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital from Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital were coordinated in a safe and efficient way. Those working in the departments that were slated to move to Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, including our Woman and Child, Inpatient Mental Health and Inpatient Integrated Stroke programs, have also been incredibly flexible and adaptable with the change. They will continue to provide care to our community at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital until we can fully open Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital the way we had intended.
Opening day and beyond
On February 7, we opened our critical care and general medicine beds at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital to support the surge in the system through the IMS structure. Watching that first patient transfer vehicle arrive in our ambulance bay at 7:35 a.m. that Sunday morning was a milestone moment for our organization. Although it wasn’t the type of opening our staff, physicians, volunteers and community had been anticipating, supporting the health care system in this way was the right thing to do.
Residents in the City of Vaughan have waited so long for their first hospital to open and they have been waiting years to be able to access all of the services that Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital was intended to offer. Without the understanding and support of the Mackenzie Health team and of the residents in the communities we serve, we wouldn’t have been able to step up in the way we did to support our community and our province through the pandemic.
We look forward to being able to fully open Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital the way we originally intended and realize our two-hospital future once the surge is adequately addressed. Until then, we’re proud to be part of the solution as we support the provincial pandemic response.
Altaf Stationwala is President and CEO, Mackenzie Health.