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The view from inside a 'controlled whirlwind:' Kateri Hospital in Kahnawake during the COVID-19 pandemic
Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre in Kahanwake confirmed its first case of COVID-19, and its staff have been working tirelessly since before the outbreak was labelled a pandemic. SOURCE Facebook
MONTREAL -- Lisa Westaway is the executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre in Kahnawake, south of the St. Lawrence River from Montreal.
She, like every healthcare professional across the country and globe, has not slept much over the past month as the COVID-19 epidemic has spread, forcing healthcare workers into non-stop action mode.
Last night, she finally got some sleep.
“I think my body couldn’t stay up anymore,” she told CTV News early Friday morning.
Kateri Hospital confirmed its first COVID-19 case in Kahnawake Wednesday after a doctor was diagnosed with the virus after returning from vacation. The announcement brought the community and hospital attention across the province.
Westaway and her staff knew the information would get out and rumours could potentially spread fast in the small community; she decided to release the information immediately.
“We wanted to make sure that the information came from the source, and that it was accurate, so that rumours didn’t start,” said Westaway.
In a small community like Kahnawake, the announcement was a shock, but one that healthcare staff at the hospital knew would come eventually.
“It was a bit of a wakeup call, and hopefully for those who aren’t taking it seriously it’s more of a wakeup call,” she said. “That first one, it just makes it all very real.”
Kahnawake was ready. The community set up a COVID-19 task force that combined the hospital, Public Safety Unit, Kahnawake Peacekeepers, fire brigade, community services, education centre and Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
“Our structure is really well-organized so it allows us to function in the chaos,” said Westaway. “We’ve all said to each other, it’s when we get home and we just sit for five minutes that what we’re going through hits us, where you say, ‘Wow. How did we get through that day?”
For those on the task force, tackling the issue means constant movement to deal with a tsunami of information that is always changing.
“You’re running from one thing to the next and trying to make sure you’re communicating to the right people, that you’re getting the information out there, that you’re reading everything you have to read, that you’re following the most up-to-date instructions,” said Westaway. “Everything was changing on an hourly basis.”
Kateri follows all news and infromation coming from Quebec, Canada and Indigenous Affairs to ensure accuracy. Outdated information is unhelpful and can hurt credibility.
“You don’t really have time to process,” said Westaway. “You have to make quick decisions and move quickly… People don’t fully understand how quickly the information changes. Everything’s a whirlwind, but, at the same time, it’s controlled.”
Kateri Hospital has 58 beds for short and long-term patients, and, like all hospitals closed the doors to visitors this week.
Buddy Goodleaf suffers from Alzheimer’s and is one of those residents. His children are used to visiting him every day. His son Brian brought his father hot chocolate and a doughnut each night at the end of his workday before the pandemic.
Though he misses seeing his dad, Brian is impressed with how the staff have handled his care, and knows his father is in good hands.
“My Dad has weathered so many storms in his 88 years that he just shrugs his shoulders and says his patented ‘No problem,’” said Brian. “Of course I miss him as we were together every day for the past 40 years, but I know he’s happy and well taken care of, so a minor inconvenience takes a back seat to his well-being.”
Westaway said the staff and community have stepped up to help. Community members have donated iPads, so patients can FaceTime with family and friends, and staff help patients use the phone and sub in for daily meals usually shared with family members.
“They’re spending an enormous amount of one-on-one time with them,” she said. “They’re happy and doing very well. We haven’t seen any negative impacts of the isolation.”
Westaway said the hospital is currently not facing any shortages of masks or other medical equipment, and are watching the situation closely.
She said the most important thing is giving accurate information, showing respect and thinking about the big picture through the storm.
“It’s so important to decrease the fear and anxiety,” said Westaway. “I’m exhausted about it (interviews), but it’s important, so it’s okay… This virus doesn’t care about politics or race. This virus is impacting all of us across the world. Whoever we are and wherever we live, it’s not about us as individuals. It’s about the collective and banding together to fight this.”