Nova Scotia·Point of View

I started working at Northwood 3 weeks ago. Here are the heroes I've met

Nurse practitioner Katy van Vulpen is a recent Dalhousie University graduate who is now working at the epicentre of Nova Scotia's COVID-19 outbreak — the Northwood long-term care facility.

Reflections from the long-term care facility at the centre of Nova Scotia's COVID-19 outbreak

More than 50 residents have died of COVID-19 at the Northwood Halifax Campus, Nova Scotia's largest long-term care facility. (Robert Short/CBC)

I began my career as a nurse practitioner three weeks ago, hired by the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax to help with COVID-19 pandemic relief.

It happened quickly. I am working under a temporary licence, after my Dalhousie University master of nursing graduation ceremony and my national nurse practitioner's exam scheduled for earlier this month were both cancelled.

The other day, I read a handwritten letter on the wall from one of the many children who send in messages and drawings. It thanked all of the Northwood staff for being "sooper heros." They are — each staff member who shows up, day after day, caring for those who are ill and keeping spirits high.

I have my own personal "sooper heros," those who have kept me going these past few weeks. Those who have put in long hours, given up their weekends and evenings, and worked from home on their days off. My team, my colleagues, my new family — the nurse practitioners and hospice nurses at Northwood.

One of the many messages of support staff at Northwood have received from children. (Submitted by Katy van Vulpen)

This group has been able to work efficiently and effectively together with the help of the many amazing Northwood staff on the floor, who have been excellent in communicating and collaborating as a team in order to deliver the best care.

To all of you, from those of you who are regular Northwood staff, to those who came from other hospitals and places of work, and those who came from all over the province — thank you. You are appreciated more than you know.

My team includes Northwood nurse practitioner Cathy Misener, Nikki Kelly, a nurse practitioner who came from the Halifax Infirmary ER, and Georg MacDonald, a nurse practitioner from the ER at Digby General Hospital, as well as our manager, Jennifer Tucker, who leads us and holds us all together.

Everyone at Northwood is working their butts off on the floors to keep residents safe, fed, washed, healthy and happy. The nurse practitioners have been working extra hard to try to keep everyone healthy.

They are on site every day completing physical assessments, writing prescriptions and making adjustments in medications and care plans for those who are ill. More recently, they have played a huge part in assessing those who no longer have symptoms, using their skills and expertise along with a specific set of criteria to deem them "recovered."

Working alongside management and a team of medical student volunteers, we have been able to provide exemplary care to residents.

Katy van Vulpen is a nurse practitioner on a temporary licence who studied at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Submitted by Katy van Vulpen)

However, our efforts to keep everyone healthy have not come without challenges and sadness. This can be a cruel illness. While many of our residents have had mild to moderate cases, we have faced a substantial number of severe cases and, with heavy hearts, 51 deaths.

I want all of you to know that each death is meaningful. Each loved one is very much loved and cared for by the entire staff at Northwood.

If you did not already know, Northwood has two amazing hospice nurses, Pam Slobodeskey and Mary Wylde. They have made it their life's work to make your loved ones comfortable and peaceful.

They take the time to get to know the families and all of the intricacies of a person's life that make them who they are. From the time of admission to the end of life, they develop a plan and get to know the wishes of residents and families so that they can provide the best care possible.

They continue to set aside their own needs and personal grief to provide exceptional care. They have a gift that very few people have, and they are so appreciated for everything they do.

Some workers are shown at Northwood recently. Van Vulpen said the people she works with are 'sooper heros.' (Submitted by Katy van Vulpen)

Hindsight is 20/20. It's hard to say you should have or could have done things a certain way when you didn't know exactly what you were dealing with. Northwood has done everything it could to make sure appropriate precautions and interventions were put into place, based on the information it had at the time.

No one could have predicted this would have hit as hard as it did, that it would have spread as rapidly and relentlessly as it did. It could have hit anywhere, but for some reason it hit Northwood.

As the dust settles, we are left with holes in our hearts from those that we have lost. But we remember them. We are a little stronger and more tightly knit because of them. We know that they will not be forgotten.

While our little community grieves, we will continue to move forward and do what we do best in honour of them.

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