Hamilton students babysit, run errands for local healthcare workers during COVID-19
'They're struggling with the fear of contracting and transmitting COVID-19'
When schools, childcare services and March break camps slowly began to close due to concerns over COVID-19, McMaster University medical student Mary Boulos knew something had to be done to support physicians and nurses.
Over the last week, many public and private services in Ontario have shut down due to required social distancing that aims to slow the spread of COVID-19. For healthcare workers, especially those with young kids, closures and extra hours at the hospital have made it difficult to care for their children and pets.
Boulos said she and her classmates were feeling quite "helpless," so she began looking for ways to provide support.
Boulos found inspiration from students at Western University in London and founded the McMaster Healthcare Students COVID-19 Response Team.
Her group of volunteers has healthcare students provide services to frontline healthcare workers in the Waterloo, Hamilton and Niagara regions. They offer babysitting, pet-care and grocery-runs services among others. So far, Boulos has had 130 students sign up to help.
"It really began as a way to take an active stance in the pandemic, to help people on the frontlines," Boulos said. "We saw this as an opportunity to really step up and support the people who are continuing to go in to work every day, even though there's risk to themselves."
As a mom of two and chief resident in McMaster's emergency medicine residency program, Dr. Lauren Cook-Chaimowitz, has helped spread the word about the group because she understands the stress healthcare workers are currently under.
"When I've gone to deliver fliers or let people know about the initiative, everybody has been sort of overwhelmed and expressing a lot of gratitude for what these med students and other healthcare students are providing," she said.
While Cook-Chaimowitz said she isn't aware of an increase in patients, local hospitals are expecting to be swamped.
"We're anticipating, based on the best data that we have available, that things are going to get much busier and, certainly, clinical hours will be longer for my colleagues," she said, adding that if that's the case at least workers know there's support in the community.
As of Tuesday, when the first set of volunteers went out into the community, Boulos said they have received requests from 45 healthcare professionals — 95 per cent of whom have asked for childcare support for kids between the ages of one and 12.
"Overall, it's been extremely positive, people are very grateful for the service because, for a lot of health care workers, they're struggling with the fear of contracting and transmitting COVID-19, as well as leaving their kids at home without babysitting," she said.
Though Boulos founded the McMaster-based team, she's recruited four other lead organizers: Francis Lao, Ben Forestell, Mackenzie Stoness and Marina Liu. All are medical students at McMaster, who are still completing online courses.
While other universities have undertaken similar initiatives, Boulos said hers was the first to offer volunteer positions to healthcare students outside of medical school. Additionally, any Canadian healthcare students can volunteer — even if they're not attending a local school. Boulos' group has students from universities in Ottawa and Toronto.
Other schools nearby like Western University in London and the University of Toronto started similar initiatives on Saturday.
A key element to all of this, Boulos said, is safety. The group has put together a list of policies to guide their actions and maintain appropriate social distancing measures to ensure the wellbeing of everyone involved.
"The response has been overwhelming in a positive way, but it's definitely more than we anticipated," Boulos said. "Honestly, the demand to us is very reassuring that we're doing the right thing, because we see that all these health care workers really do need the support and this is our way to help."