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COVID-19 at EWFHT

TO OUR PATIENTS:                                                                                                      September 30, 2020

Dear Patients

We know you are tired.  Tired of being careful, of wearing masks, of not being able to hug your nearest and dearest, of limits and restrictions and rules.  We understand and our staff are here to help you to continue receiving excellent health care, despite the circumstances.

In our partnership with you, our patients, we ask you also to please be mindful of the way you communicate with our staff. We are also weary and remember that a little kindness goes a long way.  These are unprecedented times and our staff approach their work every day, with smiles on their faces, trying to do their level best for patients.  No one wants to tell you that we don’t have an available appointment for you.  No one wants to keep you on hold while attending to others.  Staff are problem-solving every day to find ways around situations that are beyond our control.  Our staff are balancing multiple and competing needs that cannot be seen by the general public, while masking, cleaning, advising, screening, instructing, responding.  We have heard stories of gratitude from many of you who recognize when our staff go above and beyond to ensure that your needs are met.  You make such a difference in our days when you stop to tell us that our efforts are appreciated.  Thank you.  We just kindly ask that when things are not working you please try to address situations in a kind and respectful manner and refrain from personal attacks.  We ARE in this together.

There are some things we would like you to know in order for our work together to be most effective:

  1. Flu shots – We do not determine the amount of vaccine we receive every season.  Each Public Health unit determines allocations based on the amount of serum they receive from the Ontario Ministry of Health. We start with a baseline expectation of numbers, based on previous years, and plan accordingly, increasing the number of flu shot clinics we can offer as more becomes known about how much vaccine we will receive.   This year, Covid precautions have significantly reduced the number of appointments we are able to offer, simply because we need to space them out to allow for distancing and sanitizing.  A flu shot clinic that would have normally accommodated 33 patients, can now only accommodate 15.

Regular flu shot seasons are a community responsibility.  Flu shots are largely administered by Public Health, Family Doctors’ offices, and Pharmacists.  This year, flu season is co-occurring with Covid-19 and everyone is being urged by public health officials to get their flu shot.  This is good advice, however, it has created a demand higher than we have ever seen and the vaccine supply is still unknown.  This year, even those who have never had flu shots before, are feeling a sense of urgency to get one this year and we understand this. 

Our clinical team has put in place a schedule of 24 flu shot clinics, serving almost 300 patients.  In less than 48 hours, we received over 500 emails from patients requesting flu shot appointments in addition to a flurry of phone calls.    Again, we understand.  You are acting on good public health advice and are frustrated when this need cannot be immediately met, especially when you were diligent about replying to our email as soon as you receive it.  Please know that, by 6:30am the following morning, staff began to contact patients in the order that emails and phone calls were received, and in a very short time all available appointments were booked.  We prioritized our patients aged 65+, as well as those with complex health conditions, and scheduled them into the high dose clinics.  Please rest assured that we are doing everything we can to make flu shots available to as many as we can.  We have additional clinics planned and ready for that moment when we are made aware of the number of vaccines we can expect to receive. If you have not heard back about your request for a flu shot, you do not have a flu shot appointment booked because we have run out.  We urge you to pursue the other options – pharmacies and public health flu shot clinics.  Statistics show that last year, more Ontarians received their flu shots at pharmacies than their family doctors’ offices.  This is a safe and efficient way of ensuring that you are protected in a timely manner.  If you have been advised that you should get a high dose flu shot, please know that last year and this year, the provincial availability of this serum was significantly limited.  Public Health advises that you are better off receiving the regular dose flu shot than waiting a length of time for the high dose.  Primary care is to receive flu vaccine after all long term care facilities, all hospitals, and pharmacies have received their requested supply.

  1. Access to care – the EWFHT has not closed its doors, even for one day, throughout the pandemic.  As per the Ministry of Health directive, we have limited in-person care to “essential needs”.  If you are given a virtual appointment – video or phone – this does not mean that your need was not seen as important but that your skilled clinician has determined that your needs can be met through a mode different than in-person care and still meet the professional standards of health care.  In-person appointments are reserved for those with needs that cannot be met virtually.  We have continued to provide in-person care for routine cancer screening, well-baby/child check-ups, regular and catch-up vaccine clinics and acute needs that require a physical exam.
  1. Administrative access – we have paid close attention to the many complaints we have received about our phone system and we agree with you.  The needs of our team and our patients has outgrown its capacity.  To this end, our goal this year was to implement a new, organization-wide phone system which should significantly improve patient access to our office staff.  For the past year, our staff have been working on the plans for this new system and we are anticipating implementation by the end of October.  Please be patient.  We want to be there for you when you call and we’re working on it.
  1. Masks – we understand that this is a topic of controversy.  For those working in health care, however, it is not.  Not only are we well-schooled in the benefits of wearing masks during a pandemic, we have no choice.  We are mandated by public health to wear masks, in addition to other protective material, and to require anyone on our premises to wear one.  It will serve no purpose to challenge staff about your right to refrain from wearing a mask, as we are legally mandated to ensure that all people visiting our sites wear one. ONLY patients who are exempt from wearing one for valid medical reasons, will be permitted to enter our premises without a mask.  These individuals, however, are encouraged to wear a face shield and we can provide you with one.   All others are invited to wear your own washable mask or, if you do not have one, we will provide one.  If you are opposed to masking for reasons other than medical, you may still access your doctor by booking a virtual appointment.
  1. Blood work – the pandemic has significantly affected the way we are able to book appointments.  In trying to minimize the number of people in our clinics at one time, we have had to direct patients to outside services for certain things.  We have a small lab, staffed part-time by our EWFHT nurses as opposed to the full-time community labs located all over Ontario.  In order to ensure that our nurses’ time is spent on some of the most critical needs – wound care, school immunizations, baby and child check-ups, stitch and staple removal, etc. – we are directing patients to get blood work that they would ordinarily have done with us, to the community labs.  This is what is meant by the term “triage” – that we utilize our resources in a way that serves the highest needs first.
  1. Covid symptoms in the schools – we understand that many of you have jobs to do and your ability to work is greatly impacted by whether or not your children can attend school.  Please be advised that our physicians will not be providing return to school notes. Covid-19 cannot be ruled out without appropriate testing. If your child has symptoms of Covid-19, physicians at EWFHT strongly advise that you follow the Public Health Self Isolation Guidelines and proceed with your child to a COVID Assessment Centre to be tested, or isolate for the 14 day period. Please note, Public Health guidelines regarding pandemic guidelines can be accessed at https://wdgpublichealth.ca/your-health/covid-19-information-schools-parents-and-teachers/schools
  1. Public health rules – I have seen a quote by an Ontario nurse, working in an ICU during Covid.  She said, (and I paraphrase) “I am not a frontline worker.  I am the last line of defense.  The frontline is the public.  Every choice you make about your response to public health directives is what has the greatest power to tackle Covid-19. I am providing care to people at their sickest.  You have the potential to prevent sickness”.  For those growing weary of Covid restrictions, know that you have the power to make this a shorter fight.  We can do this.

If you have questions or concerns about anything contained in this letter, please contact us at info@ewfht.ca.  Thank you for your help and cooperation.  We have no doubt that if we all support each other, we will get through this trying time.  Stay safe and be well.

Sincerely,

Kim Bell, Executive Director