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IN IT TOGETHER: Keeping our people safe

Posted May 4th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: Keeping our people safe

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Jody MacDonald, Manager, Occupational Health and Safety.

Niagara Health’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) team has had experience with staff being exposed to viruses, but nothing of the magnitude of the highly contagious COVID-19. 

When an outbreak of COVID-19 is declared on a hospital unit, the OHS team, led by Manager Jody MacDonald, is responsible for following up with healthcare workers who may have been exposed to the virus.

“It’s long days and a lot of work to follow up with our team members,” says Jody. “Our goal is to keep our team safe and support them throughout the process.”

When the OHS team identifies staff who came in contact with an infected patient or another staff member, based on the level of exposure and symptoms, they will provide recommendations. That may include self-isolating, monitoring for symptoms and testing, if appropriate.

It’s one way Jody and her Occupational Health and Safety team works with our partners to ensure the safest environment for our staff and physicians during the pandemic.  

Describe your role during the pandemic?

Our regular work with our partners on the Joint Health and Safety Committees, providing wellness supports, and safely returning people to work after illness and injury have needed to continue during the pandemic. However, the work has intensified and the pace has increased with COVID-19. Initially, we focused our efforts on mask fit testing, completing more than 2,000 mask fits since January.  When travel restrictions came out, we reorganized to focus on creating a database of staff who had travelled, when and where they had travelled, and their 14-day period of self-monitoring.  When the directive changed and those staff that travelled had to go off work and self-isolate, the entire database had to be notified.  Sixteen members of the Human Resources team collectively made approximately 500 calls into the late hours of the night to provide staff with the new information.  I have never been more impressed and proud to work with a group of individuals and it speaks volumes about our work culture.  The way the team came together that night will stick with me forever.  We also provided input to IPAC and the project team responsible for developing the staff and physician screening tool.  We brought on additional staff to ensure immediate follow-up to anyone failing screening.

Describe your typical day. What’s different from before the pandemic?

In the midst of COVID-19, there is no typical day.  We have adapted from a typical workweek, to working seven days a week and longer hours.  Our commitment is to our people – protecting them and others around them.  With directives evolving frequently and exposures taking place, we are focused on immediately communicating with people who are impacted.   

What have you found to be most challenging during the pandemic?

The volume of work and the evolving situation are the most challenging.  Like many others at NH, the OHS team is working long days without a day off for a long stretch of time.  People are exhausted.  For me, it is difficult to take time off when there is so much to do and so many people to connect with whether it be with staff, managers, our union partners or colleagues. I have also missed working with people in person.  While some of our team members are working together while maintaining physical distancing, it is hard not seeing the whole team face to face.

How has the pandemic impacted you personally?

My husband is working, my daughters have part-time jobs, and my son is home - supposedly doing schoolwork!  I feel like I’m missing out on family time when the four of them are together doing things without me.  When I am home, I look forward to family dinners where I have their undivided attention and can catch up on things I may have missed.  It’s particularly nice because they obviously don’t have other plans and aren’t rushing off to go somewhere.  I also miss my mom dearly.  She lives on her own so I worry about her being lonely.  Our visits are via FaceTime or a quick chat when we are dropping her groceries off for her at the front door – while maintaining physical distancing.  I think it is the unknown of how long this will last that gets to you, but it’s your family and the people you work with that help you get through each day.

Describe working with the Occupational Health and Safety Team

I truly believe that I have the absolute best team and we have an incredible work environment.  The work we are doing is difficult and can wear on you over time. We have a family-like atmosphere where we stay in touch, even when we’re not working. They look out for each other, celebrate milestones and support one another through challenging times.  I have a million examples of how remarkable our team is.


Niagara Health System