In Conversation – With Elizabeth Buller

By John Smee
For some perspective, as of Sunday March 29th Toronto Public Health has had 540 cases of COVID-19 reported in the city. Currently, 37 of these people are hospitalized and there are 18 in ICU. SHN alone  has over 70 ICU beds available on a “normal” day. There are well-developed plans to allow SHN to expand the critical care they can provide during a pandemic.

Elizabeth Buller, President, CEO, Scarborough Health Network, (SHN) was kind enough to talk to Bluffs Monitor on Tuesday March 24th.

It’s safe to say that no one has any idea what the future holds. The situation we currently find our selves in, regarding covid-19, could go from bad to worse case scenario very quickly. However I defy anyone to come away from a conversation with Elizabeth Buller and not feel reassured about the readiness of SNH for Covid-19. She has a nurturing quality about her, probably a result of time spent working as a nurse. She speaks with a quiet confidence that makes you feel comforted.

SHN is well prepared because they’ve had a plan in place for years, close to twenty in fact. An upside of the SARS epidemic in 2003 if such a thing is possible.

“You know Scarborough went through SARS so our team has been planning for this. We’ve had all hands on deck”. To handle Covid-19 “we’ve had an Incident Management System in place for the past 10 weeks which we moved, two weeks ago, into our emergency operations centre.”Buller says, “ I’m confident in the plans that are in place at this time.”

The two Covid-19 assessment centres up and running at the Birchmount and Centennary sites have eased some of the load off the emergency departments throughout SHN.
When the assessment centres first opened they were overwhelmed with the “worried well and the low symptomatic patients”.

SHN assessment centres are not for everyone, and not everyone who visits a centre will be tested for COVID-19. However, everyone will be assessed.
You should only go to a centre if:
1. You have symptoms of a respiratory tract infection or fever;
This includes cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, runny nose, or joint aches; and may also include nausea, diarrhea and stomach pains
2. You are part of one of the following groups:
You work or live in a vulnerable or
at-risk setting including:
• any healthcare setting (hospital, long-term care facility, complex continuing care, rehabilitation centre, dialysis centre)
• School or childcare centre
• Retirement home
• Homeless shelter
• Prison
• Other settings with vulnerable populations

You have been instructed by Toronto Public Health to go to a Centre.The SHN assessment centres have been set up to allow for physical distancing between patients. Inside the assessment centre, the Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) team have assisted the clinical team in the setting up the layout, which ensures the centre maintains a 2 metre (6 feet) distance while ensuring privacy for patients.

In terms of ppe’s (personal protective equipment) “We do have all the tools we need right now. And what’s been heartwarming for us as well we’ve had an out pouring from the community of how can they help support us. Whether it’s been through cash donations food donations for staff, or supporting purchasing of equipment.”

“We have many experienced leaders; physicians, nurses all kinds on staff. Staff who went through SARS. So I actually have felt very confident the whole way along that we are on top of this. So it doesn’t mean it’s not easy; this is 24 -7. Our staff has been working around the clock. That any time we have new information the team is really on top of it. I think the community can feel confident.”