Sudbury hospital workers honoured as national pandemic heroes

·5 min read

A social worker and a chaplain who work in the ICU at Health Sciences North are being recognized as national pandemic heroes for standing up for mental health during the pandemic.

Through the use of technology, Laurie Reed and Dan Moulton worked as a team to connect families with their loved ones whether they were standing outside the hospital’s isolation room or in another province.

They also supported their colleagues by talking through their experiences with grief, fear, and moral distress.

Reed and Moulton will receive the Health Heroes award at the Pandemic Heroes – Standing Up for Mental Health Gala, which will be held at the OMNI King Edward Hotel in Toronto on Dec. 2.

Launched in April, the Pandemic Heroes awards program recognizes and celebrates individuals and organizations across the country who took supporting mental health one step further during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was numb, absolutely numb, when I found out. I don’t think Dan and I shared it with anyone for a couple of days because I was trying to process it,” said Reed.

“We feel that so many people are worthy of this award. Our colleagues have worked tirelessly during this pandemic, and so it’s with much gratitude that we accept this on behalf of our team.”

Moulton said that he was “shocked," as well.

“It definitely took a while to process it. We see the entire ICU team as one big family, and we couldn’t have done this without the support of our colleagues,” he said.

Reed works as a social worker in critical care in Health Sciences North’s (HSN) intensive care unit (ICU) and in the cardiac medical stepdown unit.

She has been in her role as a social worker at the hospital for 30 years.

Moulton has worked as a chaplain at HSN for the past 15 years. He works with Reed in the ICU, in addition to other units across the hospital, as they support the mental health of their patients.

Through the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear to the duo that the needs of their patients and colleagues were becoming increasingly complex.

Staff members were dealing with a surge in COVID-19 admissions on top of their regular caseload and the hospital’s ICU patients, already critical ill, were presented with new barriers to recovery.

“It was during the third wave where we had a lot of patients from the James Bay Coast, Winnipeg, and Toronto,” said Reed.

At the same time, Moulton added, HSN implemented a visitor restriction policy to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to patients and staff.

“Nobody, including families from Sudbury, were allowed into the ICU. It was really hard on everyone,” he said.

“Often when patients are admitted, they are ventilated, so we have no idea who they are. You have no idea who this person is that you’re taking care of. Connecting with their families helps us to learn about who they are.”

Reed said the number of referrals they were receiving increased significantly during the third wave of the pandemic, so they put their heads together to find new ways to care for the mental health of patients and staff.

“We made a lot of phone calls during that period of time, and we used video conferencing to stay in touch with the families of our patients, whether they were in Sudbury or out of town,” said Moulton.

Moulton said this was the first time the hospital used technology, such as iPads, to connect with families in such a way.

“We made that connection with the families early in their loved one’s admission, really trying to assess their spiritual and social needs,” said Reed.

“Another big part of it was how we decided to merge our roles. Dan and I met every morning to assess the needs of our patients. We became less focused on our normal, traditional roles and really worked as a team.”

Reed added that by reaching out to the families and reducing their anxiety and fear, it also helped ease the workload of hospital staff.

“I know that the fact that Dan and I shared the workload was good for our mental health. We have always worked as a team, but I think we took it to a different level during that third wave,” she said.

Moulton said the pandemic continues to have a big impact on everyone’s mental health, and he hopes to continue to find strategies to support patient well-being.

“Once again, because of the numbers in Sudbury, we’re having to claw back the visitors in the hospital. It is harder to build rapport with families over the phone and virtually, but we really see and really value family as part of the circle of care,” said Reed.

“We are all dealing with our own personal stuff right now, but I think it’s important to recognize that what hasn’t changed during the pandemic is our ability to work as a team.”

Reed and Moulton, who were nominated for the Pandemic Heroes award by one of their colleagues, thanked HSN staff for everything they’ve done through the pandemic.

“This award really speaks to the team that we have the privilege of working with,” said Reed.

The award winners

The Pandemic Heroes – Standing Up for Mental Health Gala in December will be hosted by Canadian Olympic medalist and mental health advocate Silken Laumann.

Other award recipients include the Durham Children’s Aid Foundation, The Stratas Foundation, and Ontario Power Generation.

Mégane Jacques of Trois-Rivières, Quebec will receive the Inspiring Youth award for her role as the chair of the youth advisory committee for Children First Canada.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

Twitter: @SudburyStar

Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star

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