VHA launched an Incident Command Team in response to the coronavirus pandemic on January 24th, 2020. This dedicated 24-member team managed and closely monitored VHA’s ability to continue to provide excellent service, the impacts of COVID-19 on our clients and families and on our staff and service providers, personal protective equipment supply and distribution, ever-changing infection prevention and control guidelines and recommendations and of course communications both internally and externally.
During Wave 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic, VHA and our Incident Command Team was truly focused on learning – learning everything we could about COVID-19 so we could safely provide home care to clients across Ontario. Evidence was being generated from the scientific community, experiences were being shared from other countries and stories were emerging from all corners of our public health system. From Day 1 we used the scientific advice of Public Health as our guiding star and when they changed their course, we changed ours. In the beginning, changes came very quickly and we worked tirelessly to keep up. As the months passed and the COVID-19 learning curve became less steep, changes to our procedures were made at a more manageable pace. All the way through, we were able to deliver vital services while focusing on keeping our staff and service providers and the clients and families we serve safe.
In the early days of the pandemic, we made the difficult decision to discontinue some non-essential services to make sure we could continue to provide critical supports and care. Like most organizations, many of our staff needed to take time away from work to care for their own families, including supporting virtual learning for children, and we shifted most of our office-based staff to working remotely from home. Throughout, we worked closely with community partner organizations to develop best practices and provide support, including much-needed assistance in long-term care facilities experiencing outbreaks. We also fully participated in local, regional and provincial pandemic discussions, helping to establish consensus guidelines including universal masking in home care and safe provision of care in schools for children with complex medical needs. In some cases we implemented best practices before they became formal guidelines and helped others to be early adopters as well. It was one of the steepest learning curves we have ever been on.
Between January and June, we also learned a great deal from our staff and service providers about what it is like to provide home care during a global pandemic. We also learned a great deal from our clients and families, and this drove our learning and guided our practices.
When community-spread of COVID-19 slowed down in May and June we shifted from crisis management through an Incident Command Team to incorporating these important ongoing efforts and activities into our everyday business practices. We launched an organization-wide virtual care program with an awesome team of volunteers to assist clients who need some guidance with technology. We implemented a community hub personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution model where PPE kits are transported by volunteers to a central location that is convenient for our teams and the kits are distributed by front line supervisors. This method of distribution also provides a fantastic opportunity for supervisors to connect with their teams and provide much-needed information, reassurance and education. We created a special COVID-19 clinical on-call team to support teams working at night and on the weekend. And we developed new models of care in partnership with our funders that have led to dedicated staff working in congregate settings.
Our Wave 2 Incident Command Team started up in October in order to provide a focused and coordinated response to challenges, issues and guidelines arising during the second wave of COVID-19. The group’s areas of focus include: Health Human Resources/Workforce, Client and Family Engagement and Communications, Contact Tracing, COVID-19 Testing, Flu Vaccination Initiatives, School-based Care and Congregate Care.
The commitment of our hard-working, dedicated and compassionate team continues. We are concentrating on ongoing learning and using those learnings to develop safe and new ways of providing home care. We look forward to being able to provide in-home testing to clients who need it and cannot get to a testing centre. We are excited about expanding our virtual services to include remote monitoring and clinical consultation including nurse to nurse and client/family support.
And we are energized by our Ontario Health Team partnerships and the innovative ways these teams are supporting clients and families in their communities. Above all, we remain focused on the safety of our staff and service providers and the clients and families we are proud to serve.