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NOCHS Frontline Workers: NOCC and Hospice

We deeply appreciate our community’s care for, and acknowledgement of, frontline healthcare workers. Last month, we highlighted our Pharmacy and Laboratory staff and today, we would like to highlight the staff of Hospice & Palliative Care of North Ottawa Community and North Ottawa Care Center. 

The heartbreaking necessity of keeping older residents safe has taken a toll on the residents of North Ottawa Care Center (NOCC) and their families, but also on our staff. Kim Wozniak, the Director of NOCC admits how much it hurts. “I broke down and cried when a woman asked me to hug her husband. She was outside looking in through the window and could not do it herself because she wasn’t allowed in the building. We are the surrogate family here…the huggers and kissers who are trying to spread as much love as possible to our residents in the absence of family visits.”

Kim says that the staff has been amazing, but COVID is definitely creating burnout. All of the things that were designed to foster engagement and a sense of belonging have had to be reinvented by the same people who still need to provide physical care. “The beauty shop has been closed for a year,” Kim notes. “Our staff has had to learn how to do hairstyling and barber shop-style grooming. We’ve had to figure out how to do activities while keeping residents in their rooms. Our meal delivery service had to be totally revamped so that we could serve all meals to every resident in his or her own room. We help the residents with technology so that they can at least do Zoom or Facetime calls with loved ones. We’ve purchased cordless phones and iPads to help facilitate communication because cell service is so intermittent here by the lake. I even have one nurse who comes in on her days off to accompany residents to doctor’s appointments because family members are struggling to manage their own affairs and cannot go. It’s exhausting.”

Through all of this, the families have suffered, too. But Kim says that families have been amazing. “The families of our residents are rock stars. They have sent food, and cards. They often call to tell us how much they appreciate our work. They say, ‘I know my [mom/dad] is being cared for and getting what [she/he] needs.’ We so appreciate their support, especially with all the dizzying daily changes related to protocols and updating procedures over the last 12 months.”

Being essentially locked into a building with the residents is hard and scary. But it’s equally frightening to go into multiple homes and residences every day. That’s what our hospice team faces…

“We initially had some apprehension about how to navigate in this new environment,” says Kim Holton, Director of Hospice & Palliative Care of North Ottawa Community. “We were exposed much earlier than the rest of the health system staff because we go out into the community. We have repeatedly gone into places where there were positive COVID cases. We are absolutely working on the front line.”

Just as with NOCC, the hospice staff has had new challenges. “Dr. Vander Heide continued to go out to patients who needed him, but we had to adopt telehealth techniques for many of our visits,” Kim says.  Nurses had to take on much more responsibility initially, because the social workers, chaplains and volunteers were not allowed to visit. They became the lifeline between patients and family members when visiting was completely cut out. Masking created another set of issues. “Face coverings make it hard for many of our patients to recognize and hear their care workers,” Kim notes. “We dedicated a lot of intentional effort to make communication clear, comforting and friendly.”

Bereavement counseling is an important part of hospice care. The bereavement counselors have been exceptionally busy during this time. “People have not been able to have memorial services or funerals,” Kim reminds us. “That makes it so much harder to grieve. Our social workers really stepped up to find ways of supporting those dealing with loss.”

Keeping the staff healthy has been a big concern. “I have been so impressed and proud of everyone’s dedication,” Kim says. “There has never been any question about whether or not we will go provide care.  People work in hospice because they have a personal mission. COVID has reinforced that those who work in this field are dedicated to providing mission-driven service.”

So the next time you’re thinking about frontline workers, make sure you give a shout-out to those you don’t see. Our hospice and NOCC staff have worked tirelessly to help keep our community safe. They are an integral part of the health system’s ongoing response to COVID.

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