As we continue getting to know the departments behind the scenes of our COVID-19 pandemic response, this month we feature Occupational Health, Safety & Wellness (OHSW), a team with their hands in almost every aspect of West Park’s pandemic endeavours.
OHSW, already with multiple responsibilities, had its workload nearly doubled when the pandemic hit Ontario. Between constantly changing directives from public health units at the municipal, provincial, and federal level, and managing COVID-19 outbreaks at the hospital, OHSW has taken an all hands on deck approach since March.
“When Canada started reporting the first cases, we started having some discussion about COVID-19, but it wasn’t widespread at that point,” says Jo Zupnik, Occupational Health Coordinator, OHSW. “But then everything happened so suddenly, with the state of emergency and travel restrictions. The first month was very confusing and everything was constantly changing.”
One of the first things OHSW had to tackle was informing staff who had recently travelled about what to do upon their return regarding work, according to directives from Public Health Ontario. Once the hospital started having positive patient and staff cases, OHSW took control of COVID-19 testing, staff contact tracing, precautions education on the unit, and determining case origins (community-acquired or hospital spread).
On top of working with Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and Toronto Public Health daily to contain outbreaks, OHSW has been at the forefront of N95 masking, making sure every employee had completed a mask fit test and retesting when certain sizes became unavailable.
The fall brought its own unique set of challenges with students in the Province returning to school and the increase in sick days that followed. When screeners were required for active staff screening later in the season, OHSW worked quickly to onboard new staff and complete their health assessments.
OHSW staff members were also working tirelessly on integral projects in the background, including pouring through lab reports and designing a database to report all COVID-19 cases and test results from the Centre, as well as planning the vaccine rollout plan for staff and patients.
“Everyone on the team was working long days and focusing on the pandemic, but we still had all the other responsibilities we had before the pandemic to deal with,” recalls Julianne Pasztor, Occupational Health Nurse & Attendance Support Coordinator, OHSW. “We had so many staff coming to us about burnout and mental health, while we were all dealing with that ourselves.”
Having felt like she “hit a wall” herself sometimes, Zupnik appreciates how the OHSW team rallied together.
“We’re a tight-knit team, and we all looked after each other,” she says. “Having seen so many of West Park’s staff experiencing some burnout, we could see it in ourselves and each other, and we made sure to keep an eye out for each other.”
Most recently, the OHSW team was focused on getting West Park staff vaccinated against COVID-19, first by setting up appointments at other hospitals, and eventually setting up a vaccine clinic on site. While Ontario hospitals have had to close their vaccine clinics due to a national shortage of doses, OHSW will be ready to roll up sleeves when the clinics reopen. Until then, West Park can count on OHSW to keep fighting COVID-19 in the hospital through their tireless efforts.