The Chronicle Herald: Preparation is the best defense in the fight against COVID-19


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Chris Fraser has spent the last four months “walking into the unknown” whenever he reports for his shift.

As Health Services Manager of the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s COVID-19 Intermediate Care Unit (IMCU), the registered nurse has been focused on equipping frontline staff because he believes preparation is the best defense in the fight against COVID-19.

“Even before COVID-19 was here, we knew it was coming and there was massive, massive preparation,” says Fraser. “We had to restructure units to house potential patients and we started very intense training to ensure we were well-prepared.”

Dr. Bill Oxner, Division Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery, is among the QEII orthopaedic surgeons who are matching all gifts to the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund, up to $25,000. - Photo Contributed.
Dr. Bill Oxner, Division Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery, is among the QEII orthopaedic surgeons who are matching all gifts to the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund, up to $25,000. - Photo Contributed.

When COVID-19 first struck Nova Scotia in March, the QEII Foundation quickly mobilized to establish the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund. To date, the QEII Foundation has raised more than $300,000 towards their $500,000 goal for COVID-19 response — making sure healthcare teams are well-equipped and protected.

“If we aren’t careful, we’d be looking at a situation where multiple staff members become sick and there would be a staffing storage,” says Fraser. “Historically, there have been many times when nurses put their patients’ safety above their own by rushing in to help them immediately. So we’ve really had to do work around making sure we’re protecting ourselves first.”

Everyone on his team arrives in street clothes and changes into special scrubs and shoes that stay in the hospital. He says they’re arriving early for their shifts to ensure they’re prepared, coming in on their own time to undergo additional training and are consistently “going above and beyond.”

Clinical Nurse Educators Breagh Weatherbee and Maria Collier were very involved with COVID-19 preparations within the QEII. Many units had to be completely revamped, and they organized simulations to prepare staff and ramped up education on infection control practices.

During the peak of the pandemic, the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund has been instrumental in funding the items that allow COVID-19 patients to recover safely at home. A patient from Weatherbee and Collier’s unit was able to be sent home early with a donor-funded pulse oximeter to monitor their blood and oxygen levels.

“Staff taught them how to use it, and instructed them to come back if levels dropped to a certain point. Then they were able to manage fine at home,” says Weatherbee.

Collier says it’s “incredible” that the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund has surpassed more than $300K and she is grateful for the generous donors who continue to support the initiative.

“It’s heartwarming that people have seen the importance of supporting and improving our healthcare system,” says Weatherbee. “It’s been a stressful time in the hospital, but we all feel a strong sense of the community coming together for us — and we really appreciate it.”

It isn’t just civilians who are stepping up to support care during these unprecedented times. When COVID-19 halted non-urgent procedures at the QEII, the orthopaedic team’s surgical unit was converted into one of the first COVID-19 units to treat patients affected by the virus. The shift inspired the QEII’s orthopaedic surgeons to offer to match all new donations to the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund up to $25,000.

“As certain day surgeries and outpatient clinics begin to be reintroduced at the QEII, it is vital that our healthcare teams are prepared to support patients as the situation and future needs evolve,” says Dr. Bill Oxner, QEII Division Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery. “Whether it is protecting patients and staff from exposure as much as possible or having the right technology and items in place to deliver exceptional care, our team is proud to support this fund and match the community’s donations.”

Fraser agrees the community has shown “amazing, overwhelming support” for the QEII COVID-19 Response Fund and the impact of those donations continue to grow.

As the province begins to reopen, the need for healthcare teams to be on guard, equipped and prepared remains – regardless of what the pandemic brings their way.

The QEII COVID-19 Response Fund is funding technology-based solutions – like bedside diagnostics, iPads, e-Mental health treatment options, virtual care tools and more – to help certain care needs and appointments continue. The fund is also fueling research grants that will provide crucial discoveries that dictate how we respond to COVID-19 now and in the future.

During a time of social distancing and reduced in-person healthcare services, donors are improving care access, enhancing treatment options and limiting the spread of the virus: our province’s best defense in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

It’s been a difficult year for Nova Scotia, and Fraser says for everyone to come together like this shows how “strong and resilient” Nova Scotians are.

“We’re highly appreciative to everyone for listening to Premier McNeil and Dr. Strang, and following the rules. This is what’s allowed Nova Scotia to fight this pandemic by keeping our numbers low and flattening the curve,” says Fraser. “We were asked to step forward to care for extremely sick patients, and the rest of Nova Scotia was willing to step back and allow us to do that.”

To learn more about how the community is rallying together to support evolving frontline needs or have your donation doubled by the QEII’s Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, visit