Mary Clare Egberts was introduced by Steve Cook and she thanked the Club for inviting her to provide an update on our local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Mary Clare started by outlining the current stats, but reminded everyone that they change on a daily basis.  As of April 29th, Public Health was reporting 40 lab confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the entire Hastings and Prince Edward region.  As a percentage of the population, this means we have had less COVID cases than almost all other areas of the province (34 health units, we are #29).  Currently there is one COVID patient in our four hospitals and we have only had a total of 6 inpatients with COVID since the start of the pandemic.  There is a lot of testing for surveillance, even for hospital patients who don't have typical COVID symptoms so they are fairly confident that we are now able to identify patients early.  Even with increased testing, less than 2% of people being tested in the region are testing positive which confirms there is not wide community spread going undetected.  The Ontario government is predicting the current wave of the pandemic will infect less people than even the "best case" scenario that was predicted in late-March.  Having said that, there is significant concern for people living in congregated living settings, including long-term care, prisons and group homes.  These are vulnerable populations who don't have the ability to practice social distancing and are bearing the brunt of this outbreak.  As a health care system, the focus is on efforts to reduce the impact on our most vulnerable citizens.  Names of staff willing to be redeployed to long-term care homes have been gathered.  These staff are willing to provide infection control experience, personal protection equipment and any other support that local facilities may require.  We must remain prepared, vigilant and agile to be ready to adapt and meet the needs of our local communities in the event there are future waves in the months to come.
We were fortunate to have the Canadians return from Wuhan province to CFB Trenton for quarantine because it made us get a head start on all our preparations.  We needed to learn a great deal about this virus in a short amount of time and keep staff and physicians educated as new information became available.  We determined appropriate infection control practices and how to effectively isolate any potentially COVID patients from the rest of the hospital population.  Extensive staff training was undertaken.  New units and in-patient beds were opened and equipment and supplies ordered to be ready for an influx of patients, knowing that the pandemic would be arriving in our backyard.  When the pandemic was officially declared in March, we were ready and that is when we regrettably needed to start cancelling all but urgent surgeries and services.  This has had a tremendous impact on people's health and wellbeing and these decisions were not made lightly.  A community assessment centre in Belleville was opened for potential COVID patients as well as in Picton and Bancroft.  A dedicated COVID unit was opened at BGH and a second intensive care unit.  Tents were set up outside each of our four emergency rooms to allow for a separate ER for patients experiencing COVID symptoms versus those who needed the ER for other reasons.  Mary Clare was incredibly grateful that we had a little more time to prepare in comparison to China, Italy, Spain and even New York City that did not have that luxury.  It is far worse even in Toronto as well as in other parts of the world.  There may be more difficult times ahead, but Mary Clare wanted everyone to know that their local health system and all the front line health care professionals are better prepared now than ever before.
Another key learning from this entire experience will be the importance of personal protective equipment.  The entire supply chain has been severely impacted by this pandemic.  Manufacturers of PPE many of whom were based in China, simply can't keep up with the demand.  The Ontario and Canadian governments intervened quickly and have been working very hard to secure more stable supplies.  We have been lucky to have local manufacturers who quickly stepped up to start making hand sanitizer, face shields and masks to supply the hospital.  These have been vital.
It will be complex and difficult to bring all surgery and other services back to the regular state and we need to wait for provincial direction on when and how the restrictions will be lifted.  Even with social distancing aside, we simply don't have the protective equipment, medication and other supplies to immediately return to what we considered "normal" a few months ago.  Mary Clare has been in health care for almost 30 years.  She was the Chief Operating Officer at North York General, which cared for many of the SARS patients during that pandemic.  But she has never experienced anything like this pandemic.  She is incredibly proud of all front line staff and physicians, their support teams and leaders at Quinte Health Care.  To say they have gone above and beyond is an understatement.  They continue to impress and inspire her and she is so proud to be the CEO of this team.  That is why Mary Clare did not hesitate when the QHC Board asked her to delay her retirement until the end of this year.  She has been the CEO of the organization for more than 10 years and did not want to leave in the midst of a crisis.  Mary Clare also recognized the strength of this community.  All the ways everyone has shown support and love for front line health care workers has been amazing and so appreciated.  From messages of support, to sewing masks, to donations to the Hospital Foundation, to siren parades, to banging pots.  It is wonderful to see how many ways community members have made a difference.  Thank you to everyone.