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Front-Line Diaries: Dr. Andrew Willmore ‘I've never worked this hard in my life’
OTTAWA -- His professional bio states "disaster preparedness" as one of his interests, but Dr. Andrew Willmore might be forgiven if he has had his fill of late.
Preparing for the worst has consumed the Medical Director at the Ottawa Hospital’s Department of Emergency Management these past few months, ever since the novel coronavirus, with all its accompanying unknowns, started moving our way.
"This pandemic is something that really is unprecedented in terms of the need for a response, so the timelines we had to prepare were actually pretty tight. Some of those numbers, when you looked at the projections are pretty scary,” Dr. Willmore tells CTV News Ottawa.
“If you have the potential for a massive surge of patients requiring care that can paralyze your health system, as a front-line physician myself, that's something you take very seriously."
Initially the focus was the number of patients responding to the emergency department, something Dr. Willmore says they were seeing as problematic in other cities, where capacity was not adequate.
"So within three and a half days of doing our site visit at the Brewer Arena we had an assessment centre built, so it was a tremendously fast pace. And that cadence of activity hasn't slowed down."
The activity has not slowed down but the focus has shifted. That initial effort was very successful. The Ottawa Hospital has coped well. Capacity has not been an issue. Beds have not been full and ventilators are available. However, the crisis has not been averted. The crisis was elsewhere, as long-term care centres soon emerged as the epicenter of this battle.
"We actually were reaching out to long-term care homes early. Several weeks ago we actually already had community paramedics going into long-term care facilities in Ottawa and even prior to that in the rest of the Champlain Region we have had paramedic teams going into these long-term care facilities."
Asked if given a chance to do it all over again, should his team have prioritized long-term care homes much earlier in the battle, Dr. Willmore says it is a constantly moving target, but is now their top priority.
"It's really difficult when you’re walking into any given situation to know exactly what you need to do at any given point without the benefit of being able to look back,” says Dr. Willmore.
“So we have been in the long-term care facilities and what we've done as the long-term care situation was getting worse is redeploy staff from our hospitals from public health, from our regional infection protection and control group to join that paramedic-led response to increase the sheer volume of folks that can go into these homes and provide care. And we have to be limber enough as a system to say, hey our numbers aren't looking good, what do we do in that moment to increase our response."
Another area of concern has been protecting staff at the Ottawa Hospital and health care facilities across Ottawa. Dr. Willmore says a small outbreak of positive cases among employees at the Ottawa Hospital was contained.
"It's an outbreak that was only between staff and there are other factors that go into where they would have contracted the disease,” says Dr. Willmore.
“But it always remains a concern and we have to remain vigilant. It is something we continue to keep a really close eye on. We've moved to universal masking, and continue to emphasize distancing protocols."
Remaining vigilant and responsive could be a mantra for Dr. Willmore. And trying to stay one step ahead of a pandemic, is exhausting. "It's tiring work but its important work."
Important work that motivates this father of two young children.
"Every time I have a long day, which is often these days, I look around I see everyone's in the same boat. I'm really proud of the people I'm working with, and the fact that everybody knows how important this is. And it's just our time to put our heads down and continue doing what needs to be done."
He says that is what is driving this "burst of energy" months into the crisis response.
"But again, I've never worked this hard in my life."