This month we sat down with Dr. Norm Chu, Corporate Chief and Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at SHN. Dr. Chu and his team have been on the frontlines in the emergency department during the pandemic, and he reflects on the last year and a half while looking ahead to the future of emergency care at SHN.

1. Looking back on the last year, tell us about your experience on the frontlines of COVID-19.

It has been an intense year and a half. During the first wave, we experienced a lot of fear – due to the unknown nature of the virus and the speed with which it hit us. We scrambled to protect ourselves throughout the shortage of personal protective equipment and were grateful for our community, who donated items such as masks and gloves. We were scared and emotional during the first wave, especially in emergency medicine, which is already an adrenaline-filled field.

The second and third waves didn’t carry as much fear as we knew what to expect. However, there was a feeling of wondering when this would ever end. It has taken a long time, and we’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s been exhausting, to say the least. In addition to the added burden of COVID-19 patients in our emergency department, there was always work to do helping at the vaccine clinics, the assessment centres and redeploying staff to the COVID wards.

2. What has impressed you most about the frontline teams at SHN during these challenging times?

There is such a sense of purpose and a willingness to put ourselves out there, especially during the first wave when much was unknown. Everyone showed up to work and helped in any way we could, and both our staff and our community were incredibly resilient. This impressed me so much to have such courage in the face of something that can be fatal.

We, unfortunately, did have some staff members contract the virus, but we consider ourselves very fortunate that everyone recovered.

3. As more and more of our Scarborough community get vaccinated, what would you say to those who are hesitant or nervous about getting their shot?

It is the best way to protect yourself. The risks are minimal, and the benefits are enormous – life can go back to normal once everyone gets vaccinated. However, without the vaccine, you can contract COVID-19 and develop severe and sometimes fatal symptoms.

I always encourage people to look at it in reference to the other things we do each day that carry risk. For example, we don’t think twice about getting in our cars, but over 30,000 people die in car accidents each year in North America. This risk is far greater than any risks posed by the COVID-19 vaccine, and it is very rare to have any serious side effects. So I encourage everyone to go out and get the vaccine!

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4. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Emergency Care in the near future?

COVID-19 has affected us in terms of the immediate problem of burnout and fatigue in our staff. Some of our team members may decide to retire early or go into a different field because it’s truly been exhausting. So, in the short term, a challenge will be around recruitment and adequate staffing.

We’ve also seen a shift to virtual care during the pandemic, which will likely stick around. This will ultimately be a good shift. However, there are always challenges around implementing new processes and adapting to new technology and treating patients virtually.

Finally, while infection prevention and control (IPAC) has always been important, it’s now at the forefront of how any hospital emergency room is designed. As we think about the expansion and renovation of our Centenary emergency department, there will be a need for a lot of private, isolated, negative pressure rooms to have the necessary infrastructure in place for if or when another pandemic or epidemic happens. Our ultimate goal is the protection and safety of our patients and staff.

5. What role will donors and community supporters play in advancing Emergency Care for our hospitals?

Our community and donors guide us to deliver patient-centred care. The way we design health care and our emergency rooms of the future will come from our patients and what ideal care looks like to them.

To advance emergency care to the fullest requires a partnership between doctors, clinicians, scientists and our community and donors. We’re here to serve the community, so our emergency departments have to meet the needs of that community. To provide inclusive, world-class care long into the future, we need the support and input from our diverse Scarborough community and our generous donors.

We are incredibly thankful to our physicians, nurses and health care teams for their continued work in the fight against COVID-19. As we see the light at the end of the tunnel, SHN Foundation is looking ahead to build a brighter, healthier Scarborough.

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