Wendy Walters recognized for COVID work
By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES — When COVID-19 reached Canada, it was unlike anything most had ever seen. It completely changed the landscape of how people work, how they interact, and how businesses operate. The first case of COVID-19 in Canada was reported on January 25, 2020, just over three years ago, and even though the restrictions and lockdowns haven’t been prevalent for some time, no one has forgotten just how difficult life became when it was first introduced.
As a testament to the hard work and dedication of numerous individuals during the pandemic, 26 people from Nova Scotia Health were among those honored with the Queens Jubilee Award in recognition of their significant service to the province, particularly through COVID-19. Among those recognized was Wendy Walters, who grew up in Port aux Basques and left in 1998 to attend Mount Saint Vincent University, where she went on to get her Masters in Public Relations.
Walters is currently the Communications Director at Nova Scotia Health in their Medical Affairs Department, and said the pandemic is something she will never forget.
“It happened overnight. Everything changed and everybodys world changed,” said Walters. “Nobody could see it coming. We knew this thing was on the way, but we had no idea what to expect, and then it just became insane, and for the next two years straight it was late evenings, weekend work, and for the first three-to-four months there were no breaks.”
Standard 40-hour work weeks quickly became a thing of the past.
“It was working from 8 a.m. to 12 at night, then getting up and doing it again,” said Walters. “What we were doing was preparing all the information as it was coming through the committees. We had all these science committees, protocol committees, and how do we work with the hospitals, how do we deal with outbreaks, and all the information had to come through our communications team. Then it would be posted in a way that was organized and put out, sometimes twice a day, to all the commissions in our buildings to make sure they knew the new protocols, admitting sheets, what to do with patients, how to give them medications, different things about respirators, all new stuff that nobody had ever encountered before in the health environments. Our job was to package up all of that information several times a day, get it out, and get into the meetings and capture what they were doing for the next day. It was just non-stop.”
Walters said as that hard as it was for people having to work from home, it pales when compared to what frontline workers endured.
“I always felt guilty. I worked 16-to-18-hour days, but I did it from the comfort of my own home, to support the people who had to go in, and at the very beginning that was terrifying for our frontline providers. Our physicians were scared. Our nurses were scared. People were really worried about bringing it to their families because we had a lot of it. There was a lot of COVID on the go, and people didn’t really understand the transmission as much, at the early stages of it, so they were very interested in learning as quickly as possible and getting all that information to them about what to do to be safe,” said Walters. “They had to get up and go in there and face it, so I felt a bit guilty about being recognized for doing that work because I was doing it from the safety of my home. And the frontline workers we were supporting didn’t have the option to stay home and take care of it.”
Working through the pandemic was simultaneously the most difficult and the most rewarding time of her career.
“This is the first time in my communications career – and I’ve done it for a long time – that I really felt what I was doing actually made a big difference. I say that because we improved a lot of our relationships with our frontline through that time because they were so dependent on that information and were so appreciative of it, and when people show that kind of appreciation for what you’ve done – and a lot of times communicators are seen as those who work with the media and don’t make an important impact on management or whatever else – but when you get that feedback, that thanks for the information, I know it made a difference, so we’re still doing it.”
Walters was shocked to learn that she was chosen as a recipient of the Queens Jubilee Award.
“It came out of nowhere and I didn’t expect it. I got an email, and it had a message saying you’ve won this award, and you’ll be sent an invite tomorrow to the reception. The next day I got the official invitation,” said Walters. “I was very surprised because I didn’t expect it. Usually communications stays in the back and that’s how we usually like to do things, in the background, but it was very nice and I was proud to get it but I thought there were so many people who should be getting the award, so I felt a little bit guilty that it was me too.”
The official award ceremony took place on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Government House, the official residence of NS Lieutenant Governor Arthur J. LeBlanc.
“The only people who know how hard I worked during that period of time would be my family because they saw me not being present for hours and hours at a time. There was no time to stop and eat. It was crazy. My partner and my Mom, who was here at the time, were bringing food to my desk. They knew how hard I worked, and I knew how hard I worked, and for me that’s enough, because I work in healthcare, because it’s a very rewarding thing to do. The work I am doing, I’m not harming the world, and my friends and family will benefit from the health system, so it’s easy to be proud of the work you do,” said Walters. “I’m usually happy enough just to know I’m contributing and I don’t expect any kind of glory, but I felt proud to be recognized.”
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News