Sydney ER doctor prepares for arrival of COVID-19 patients

A family physician and emergency room doctor working in the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney, N.S., is preparing to deal with COVID-19 patients in Sydney.

Dr. Joan Salah is preparing for her day-to-day experience to be much different. She has volunteered to be one of the doctors working at the COVID-19 in-patient unit at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

On Tuesday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority announced several locations across the province have been designated to assess and treat patients with COVID-19, including Sydney.

Salah said she decided to offer her services, when the time comes, after discussions with her family.

"So I do have this time, and my thought is that me and my colleagues should help the direct care of patients," she said.

While she hasn't been called to assist yet, Salah believes it's only a matter of time before physicians end up sick themselves, resulting in a call to action.

The sites designated earlier this week will include a primary-assessment centre for people referred by 811, and a secondary-assessment centre for patients requiring care or treatment.

On Wednesday, the province announced 17 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 68.

Managing a family practice

On top of accepting the new challenge, Salah's daily routine has also changed. Most of her patients are now meeting with her over the phone.

"My office is completely empty most of the day and I sit in a room with a telephone and a headset and call people and do my best to try to sort through what I can," she said. "We're [also] trying to organize people coming in sort of one at a time."

While the level of care is different, Salah said patients are still receiving the essential care.

"It's a large number of people that I can really assess by phone," she said.

Through this time, Salah said the support from her family and other physicians has been important, calling her husband, Mark, a real hero for homeschooling their three children.