Sudbury's frontline health workers named newsmakers of the year

·5 min read

The newsmaker of the year in Sudbury was not one person. It was a combination of people, some you might know, and many that you don't, who make up the incredible team of frontline workers in the health care industry.

Although some people will claim they were just doing their jobs, the fact is health-care workers in Sudbury and across Canada have etched their names and their roles into the annals of Canadian history for their achievements in fighting off the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

This bizarre course of events left many of us questioning how the coronavirus would affect our lives, our jobs, our income, our ability to travel and even our relationships. It was different for front line workers in health care.

Whether it was a nurse sweating behind a mask and gown in the Intensive Care Unit to keep their patient alive or a custodial worker swabbing up vomit in the hospital hallway, or a surgeon working through the night to heal a longstanding injury, they were there for you and your family members; they showed up for work; they did their jobs.

They took care of the sick, they cleaned the hospital floors and furniture, they washed the bedding and the gowns, they cooked the meals and cleaned the dishes. They were the clerks who met people at the reception desk. Sometimes they had to share the burden of sorrow with a parent or a spouse one when a loved-one died. They were part of the vast team of workers in our health industry who stepped up when they were needed.

‘Inspirational’

It was something that was recognized by Health Sciences North CEO and President Dominic Giroux in a recent year-end interview. He said the effort was nothing short of inspirational.

"I can't say enough. I am so proud of our staff, our physicians, our learners and our volunteers," said Giroux.

"I am proud of their hard work during this pandemic. I am proud of their humanity and their empathy, their professional commitment to go above and beyond the call of duty each day. I find their strength and their professionalism really inspirational.”

In many cases workers were faced with the terrible decisions of not spending enough time with their own families, fearing they might be carrying the virus themselves. There were health workers who went home after work only to isolate themselves from their spouses and children, worried they might be endangering their own loved ones. It's hard to imagine how that weighs on a person.

Giroux said it was remarkable how workers carried on.

"You know they have families of their own, and children who needed their parents during this challenging time. They were on the front lines caring for our neighbours, for our friends and our families and they did that with professionalism, with grace and with dignity," said Giroux.

"And they've had to continuously reinvent how they work and how they provide care to keep patients and colleagues safe," he added.

The heroic efforts of health-care workers was not confined to hospitals. Sudburians and people across the province gained a whole new level of respect for the workers in long-term care homes, who might easily be called the unsung heroes of health care.

It has been written that the true measure of any society can be determined by how well it treats its most vulnerable members. It became apparent that was not lost to long-term care workers who continued to look after elderly patients despite restrictions prohibited visitors and other volunteers.

Personal support worker Christyna Cox at Extendicare York was one of several CUPE Local 1182 employees who spoke at a rally in September. She said she and her co-workers were happy to continue looking after the residents regardless of the pandemic.

"Coming to work is uncomfortable. It's the unknown that is just not right," said Cox, who also praised her co-workers for continuing their jobs in tough circumstances.

"Actually our employer has been very good in that sense. We are very lucky in that nobody has been told to do different job duties or different departments or anything like that. So we're very lucky," said Cox.

Praise also came from a long-term care administrator who was more than pleased with employee efforts.

“Rock stars’

Jo-Anne Palkovits, President and CEO/Administrator at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Sudbury called her workers “rock stars.”

"I do really want to say that I do think our staff have been amazing during both of the outbreaks we had. It was very challenging for everyone," she said. Palkovits added that unlike some long-term homes in Southern Ontario, her Sudbury staff took steps to ensure the virus did not spread despite the fact a St. Joseph’s resident died in late April.

"The staff worked very hard to contain the virus, and for that I am very grateful to them." Palkovits said one of the key factors was following procedures and ensuring everyone used the right PPE (personal protective equipment).

"So they were masking and gowning and hand washing. By following the correct infection control policies and procedures in place at our facilities, they were just rock stars. So I would just like to emphasize the great work all of our staff are doing in protecting our patients and our residents," she said.

But as the year ends, the story continues. Giroux said as hard as the health teams at the hospital have worked in 2020, it doesn't mean the pandemic is over.

"It has been an intense marathon and the marathon will continue in the new year," said Giroux.

"That's why i have really encouraged our teams to be able to recharge as much as they can during the holiday season, to continue to be there and to continue to take care of themselves and to provide the type of care that our communities will need in the new year."

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com