Carrie Jemmett laments that her walk home from work has changed since COVID-19 entered the Barrie community and the public’s consciousness.
Jemmett, an environmental services aide at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), is one of many essential workers who are working hard to keep the community safe during the global pandemic.
This week, BarrieToday took a walk through the hospital’s respiratory unit – where COVID-19 patients are fighting the virus – and spoke with some of the staff about their experiences on the front line.
“I think it’s funny when I’m walking home. I walk the paths because my house is right behind (the hospital),” she said. “I’ll see people who will see where I’m walking from and they’ll literally cross the road so they don’t have to walk near me.
“It feels sad. Even at six feet, I’m not anywhere that I could contaminate you. I’m diligent in my hand washing and cleaning so I don’t contaminate anybody else. It’s a little weird,” she said.
Jemmett has worked in a housekeeping role at the hospital for 15 years. She started as another pandemic neared its deadly climax.
“I started just at the end of SARS, so I saw part of that,” she said. “I don’t necessarily worry about myself getting sick, but I do worry about going home to my children or anybody else I could be in contact with.”
Jemmett says the hospital provides all the clothing workers wear on the job at this point, and they all change out of those clothes before leaving. Jemmett says she even leaves her shoes at work.
“There are showers here, too, so you can choose to have a shower before you go home,” she said.
Jemmett is primarily responsible for cleaning rooms at the hospital, including in the respiratory unit. However some of her duties extend beyond that, especially now that visitors are no longer allowed.
“I have conversations with (patients), because they’re lonely,” said Jemmett. “The days can be sad where there’s patients in rooms and they don’t have anybody. There’s nobody to sit with them.”
Courtney Pitman is a resource nurse in the respiratory unit at RVH. Her job involves keeping track of all patients and following up with Infection Prevention and Control Canada on COVID-19 testing results to determine the best method of care for each patient.
Since COVID-19 struck, there have been some dark days in the unit.
“We’ve had a few days where some of our patients ... especially the COVID ones, you’re really hopeful and are cheering them on that they’re going to make it through," she said. "But we’ve lost some patients where we’ve worked hard on trying to be there for them and support them to get them through this.
“Sometimes, it’s as hard on us as it is on the patients, not being able to be present with them as much as possible,” Pitman said.
“Trying to support them, even emotionally, when they’re having trouble hearing you and they can’t see your face. It’s hard in general. You don’t feel as supportive as what you would want to be,” she added.
Pitman has been a nurse for 14 years.
“I always enjoyed science in school,” she said. “I also liked all the opportunities being a nurse gave me. There are so many different things you can do as a nurse. There’s also the helping-people aspect. That was very appealing when I first got into it. It keeps me on my toes.”
Pitman says that previously, the respiratory unit would primarily see patients with issues such as lung disease or other respiratory illnesses. All COVID-19 positive patients who are not required to be in intensive care are in the respiratory unit.
“COVID is obviously related to that which is why our unit was chosen to take those patients on,” she said. “Now, we’re getting cardiac or palliative patients who are also being tested for COVID. We have a wider variety of patients than we’re used to caring for.”
In the unit, sometimes the stress of it all can get to staff, which is to be expected.
“In general, our unit is very supportive of each other, but this has really put it to the test,” said Pitman. “People are having problems with child care, like when our spouses may be essential workers, too. So that’s a huge added stress to the stress they’re feeling here at the hospital. My biggest worry would be bringing the virus home to my two kids.”
Pitman said she hears concerns from her friends and family as well.
“They say, ‘Why would you work in that?’" said Pitman with a laugh. “Like, as if it’s a choice. I know there’s been a lot of information out there about (a lack of) PPE (personal protective equipment) and that has always been a worry. But RVH has been really open with us and sharing plans. They’ve put a lot in place to help us feel supportive.”
RVH officials confirmed this week they are no longer dealing with a shortage of PPE at the hospital.
Over the past two months, Pitman says she’s been surprised how organized the process at RVH has been.
“When things could have been tweaked a bit, they were tweaked very quickly. I thought there would be more turmoil and confusion than there really has been,” she said. “It’s been all good things that have surprised me.”
Pitman says the hospital has also set up wellness rooms for staff.
The local community has also played a major role in keeping up staff spirits.
“The community’s been really great. We’ve got a lot of food and snacks donated to us. It’s been really nice,” said Pitman. “Our cafeteria isn’t open anymore so we have to really plan and make sure we have all our meals.”
COVID-19 statistics as of May 19, 2020
- At Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, there were three patients with confirmed COVID-19.
- There were also 18 COVID-19-positive inpatients.
- The health unit confirmed 28 new cases of COVID-19 in the Simcoe-Muskoka region, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the area to 432.
- The health unit confirmed in Barrie, there were 145 cases, 90 recoveries and 12 deaths total due to the virus.