New Brunswick

Moncton doctors say Horizon Health has enough staff, supplies to deal with pandemic

Horizon Health doctors say the province started preparing a response to a pandemic after the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2001.

Horizon explains current criteria for testing for COVID-19

Dr. Gordon Dow is the division head of infectious diseases at the Moncton Hospital. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Lead doctors at Horizon Health Network say the organization has enough supplies and staff to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Ken Gillespie, chief of staff at the Moncton Hospital, told reporters on Friday that after the SARS outbreak in 2003,  every province put into effect a "pandemic preparedness," which the doctor said means a stockpile of supplies are put aside for this sort of incident.

He said ventilators are "crucial to what we're expecting to come."

There are 39 adult ventilators, three neo-natal ventilators at the Moncton Hospital. With another six ventilators on order, two of which are expected to arrive next week with four more coming, "shortly after that."

There are 90 ventilators across the Horizon Health Network, while Dr. Jennifer Russel, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said there are a total of 161 in the province with another 50 per cent on order.  

"We feel like the number of ventilators that we have is pretty good per capita," Gillespie said.

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GIllespie said there about 500,000 N95 masks, and four million regular masks. He added that N95 masks are not needed in the "vast majority of situations" and they aren't going to be worn by medical staff and patients all the time. 

"We'd burn through our N95 masks supply very quickly, and the problem in that scenario is that when we do need them they won't be available." 

Over the last week, Horizon Health cancelled all non-urgent services, and reduced surgical access, except for urgent procedures such as limb-saving and cancer surgeries.

'We don't have any issues with staffing'

Because Horizon stopped doing elective procedures this week, "we don't have any issues with staffing," Gillespie said.

"We are looking at how do we redeploy the staff that we have to areas where they're needed."

For example, a staff person is now at the door screening people who are trying to enter the hospital, but it's not a job that normally exists.

Normally, 300 physicians work out of Moncton Hospital, and Gillespie said there are currently about 20 not able to work, "six or seven" of them off because of self-isolation.

Dr. Ken Gillespie, chief of staff, said there are 39 adult ventilators and three neo-natal ventilators at the Moncton Hospital. (Horizon Health Network/video feed)

Gillespie added that how many supplies and staff are needed depends on how closely the public follows safety measures.

"The workload is either going to be spread out over a very long period of time or a very short period of time," he said.
"If it's a very short period of time then we're gonna be in trouble, if it's spread out over a long period of time we're gonna be fine."

Moncton Hospital specialists say they're ready for COVID-19, but how badly the province is hit depends on how closely people follow recommended procedures.

Assessment centre

Dr. Jody Enright, medical director, set up Moncton Hospital's assessment centre in a tent in the parking lot. She said it's been operational since Saturday. People who are showing symptoms of the virus can contact 811 or their family doctor. After a phone assessment is made, if it's deemed necessary, the patient is referred to the assessment centre.

"To date we've been able to call those patients within an hour or two and often get them an appointment within an hour or two," said Enright.

The patient drives in, and the staff go to the car to make an assessment.

"We do the swab right there and they carry on and go home to self-isolation."

Enright said the numbers have been increasing over the week, but "we still have quite a bit of capacity there."

She said the current criteria for testing is that a person must have a cough or fever, as well as some contact with the illness.

Dr. Jody Enright, medical director at the Moncton Hospital, set up an assessment centre in the parking lot. It's designed so that most people who need to be tested can be assessed and swabbed without leaving their car. (Horizon Health)
 

"Either they have traveled within the last 14 days themselves or they've been in contact with a sick person who has travelled within the last 14 days, or they've been a contact of a known case of COVID," said Enright.

The only lab in the province capable of testing swabs is in Moncton at the Dr. Georges L Dumont Hospital.

"it's been able to keep up with everything we've been sending," said Dr. Enright.

Apart from the Moncton clinic, Horizon Health also set up assessment centres in Saint John, Miramichi and Fredericton with a plan to set up an assessment centre in Upper River Valley very soon.

Vitalité set up screening clinics in each of the network's zones: Beauséjour, Northwest, Restigouche and Acadie-Bathurst. Tele-Care 811 or a family doctor must make a referral.

Infection control

Dr. Gordon Dow, infectious disease specialist at the Moncton Hospital, said, "infection control is very near and dear to my heart because it's the only tool we have for COVID-19."

With no vaccines or proven therapies, Dow said of self-isolation, social distancing, and preventive measures, "it's all we've got."

There are two routes through which infection happens: touching and droplets.

Dow explained that coughing and sneezing are the two ways droplets are released into the air to a maximum distance of three feet, or a little less than a metre. The moisture can stay in the air for about 15 minutes. He said, this is why people are being asked to keep a distance of six feet, or about two metres.

Droplets then land on surfaces and can last about a day on a porous surface, and up to three days on a nonporous surface. This is why surface cleaning is important.

 Dow conceded it's been said many times, but aside from social distancing, the best defence against the virus is frequent hand washing and don't touch your face. 

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.

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