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By Mike Baker
When Kim Delahunt looks back on her first 12 months at the helm of Headwaters Health Care Centre, she proudly declares it to have been a period of progression and perseverance.
Taking on the role of president and CEO at the local hospital in October of 2019, Ms. Delahunt has led the charge on numerous projects and initiatives designed to bolster services and improve safety at Headwaters, both for patients and staff members alike. While plans were already in place to renovate the main entrance and lobby prior to her arrival, Kim has pushed forward proposals to expand the facility's emergency department and increase capacity for its obstetrical, oncology and urology units.
But it hasn't all been plain sailing. For the bulk of her first year in Orangeville, Ms. Delahunt has had to contend with this little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible pressure that has put on our health care system here in Dufferin County.
“What a year this has been. It's certainly not the year I expected as a first-time hospital CEO, but it has been very busy, with a lot of positives, and certainly a lot of challenges with the onset of the pandemic back in March,” Ms. Delahunt told the Citizen.
Services at the hospital were massively scaled back during the facility's initial response to the pandemic, with much of Headwaters' non-essential, non-emergency clinics and programs shutdown from March to June. Only staff and patients were permitted to be on-site during that time, with the hospital, essentially, closed to the public for around four months. It was a distressing time for hospital employees, Ms. Delahunt recalls, but was a “necessary pain” as the community's health care professionals fought to stem the spread of coronavirus.
When talking about her most significant accomplishments in her first year, Kim's list is dominated by the many measures implemented at the hospital to combat COVID-19.
“What I am most proud of is our COVID-19 response at the hospital, and how quick everyone pivoted to fight this horrible virus,” Ms. Delahunt said. “We turned around a plan for our outdoor assessment centre in less than a week. Getting that up to speed, and figuring out what worked was no small feat, and it's still there today, super busy and super efficient. I think it's one of the most efficient drive-thru assessment centres anywhere in Ontario, and I'm super proud of that.”
She continued, “Then, on top of ramping everything down at the hospital and figuring things out there, we responded to a very bad COVID-19 outbreak at one of our long-term care homes in Shelburne. It was incredible the way our team came together and stepped up to the plate to help stabilize the situation.”
Upwards of 25 staff members from Headwaters hospital were involved in the response to the outbreak at Shelburne Retirement Residence. Around 90 percent of the facility's residents were infected by the virus, with 55 residents testing positive for COVID-19. In total, there were 15 deaths reported at the home.
Another area in which Headwaters hospital has stepped up recently is in providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to its many community partners. The hospital has become a regional hub of sorts, as Ms. Delahunt describes it, for those in the health and service industries to access the equipment they need to ensure they are remaining safe while on the job.
Looking ahead, Kim said it's likely that we will be dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic well into 2021, and potentially beyond. With a second wave well and truly here in Ontario and the number of positive cases on a daily upward trajectory, it doesn't appear the virus is going anywhere anytime soon. While there are currently around 100 COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of development, none are close to receiving the all-important thumbs up from the World Health Organization (WHO). It has been estimated that a WHO-sanctioned vaccine may not be readily available until 2022 at the earliest.
So, what does that mean for our hospital here in Orangeville? Ms. Delahunt highlights several potential impacts, most notably the potential financial repercussions of continuing to fund the many COVID-19 enforced safety measures enacted at Headwaters hospital in recent months, and the significance of cancelled, or scaled back, fundraising events and cutting other revenue streams condensing the facility's bottom line.
“With the COVID-19 expenses, we are faced with a couple of different challenges. Back in July, we submitted over $3 million in expenses to the province for all of our COVID-19 efforts to date. That was primarily to do with staffing of the assessment centre, costs of implementing new rules and procedures at the hospital, we've had to up staff, a lot of different things,” she said. “They did reimburse us for our operating expenses for March and April, however they have not funded, and did not cover any capital expenses. So, any new pieces of equipment, or anything we needed to purchase to react to the pandemic, and there's been a good amount (of money spent) there.”
She added, “They have also not yet committed to funding any lost revenue. Currently, our assessment centre is located in one of our parking lots. That particular lot typically has a lot of traffic flow through it, so we're estimating we're going to lose $1.4 million in revenues by the end of this year. As of now, there's no plan or no mention of covering something like that. For a hospital of our size, that's going to be a big pressure, and a big loss.”
Simply put, Ms. Delahunt says bluntly, unless the provincial government intervenes, Headwaters hospital will be running a deficit this fiscal year. The local hospital, likely, will not be alone in doing so, Kim says.
“This is not just a local thing, a local issue. This is something that is impacting every hospital across Ontario. But, where I think it impacts medium-sized hospitals like us a little more, is that we don't have the bigger budgets, or any extra funds anywhere where could potentially find savings and help balance the books,” Kim said. “It's a lot harder for us because we're smaller and leaner.”
With things changing on a weekly basis due to the coronavirus, Ms. Delahunt says hospital staff have prepared for any eventuality, and have plans in place if they have to scale back operations, or respond to any further outbreaks within the community. Staff have also been working on a plan to move Orangeville's assessment centre indoors for the winter.
“We will have more information to share (on an indoor assessment centre) soon. We are making plans to wind down (our outdoor facility) in early December and move inside the hospital for the winter months,” Ms. Delahunt said.
With her first full year now under her belt, and having had to tackle the greatest health crisis of our generation, Kim feels she's well equipped to move Headwaters hospital forward into the future. It's a path she fully intends to walk with a sense of optimism and belief in the work carried out at our hospital each and every day.
“The community, and really everyone at the hospital has been amazing in this first year. I really want to thank everyone for the warm welcome they have extended to me,” she said. “Looking ahead, I'm an optimist. Despite the adversity we have faced and will continue to face in the months ahead, we will remain hopeful and positive at Headwaters hospital.”
She concluded, “I am truly honoured to be a part of the team here and the community here, because it is an amazing place. There's honestly nowhere else I would rather be during this pandemic than at Headwaters Health Care Centre. It's an amazing, amazing place.”
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