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IN IT TOGETHER: Supporting our teams to keep everyone safe

Posted Jul 30th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: Supporting our teams to keep everyone 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 Heather Paterson, Director of Patient Care, Emergency Program, Executive Lead and Chief Nursing Officer at our St. Catharines Site.

For Heather Paterson, staying connected with our teams, patients and families is her biggest priority during the pandemic.

Whether she's visiting units to share the latest updates with our teams, or touching base with patients and families to ensure we've done everything possible to exceed their care expectations, Heather is a constant presence at the St. Catharines Site.

“In my leadership roles, I've always placed a lot of importance on supporting our teams to keep everyone safe," says Heather, Niagara Health's Director of Patient Care, Emergency Program, Executive Lead, Chief Nursing Officer at our St. Catharines Site. “As things have changed rapidly with COVID-19, it's important that I'm continually updating the team with the most recent guidelines and keeping the lines of communication open."

Heather, who has worked for Niagara Health for 23 years, began her career in emergency medicine at our Niagara Falls Site. Since then, she has worked as a discharge planner at our Fort Erie and Port Colborne sites, as well as several leadership roles.

“Having worked in emergency medicine, patient care is always top-of-mind with everything I do," notes Heather. “I'm always focused on keeping everyone safe, and ensuring our teams have the resources and support they need, to provide the quality care our patients expect and deserve."

Describe your role through the pandemic.

As soon as we identified St. Catharines as the dedicated COVID site, it became my responsibility – along with my colleagues – to ensure that our team members were prepared to care for COVID patients. Working with our Infection Prevention and Control team, we educated staff and physicians on the proper use of personal protective equipment, and how to care for patients who may have the virus. We worked with other departments to create capacity for an influx of COVID patients across our sites.

Physical distancing has been integral to our daily operations. We separated teams to minimize contact and potential exposures. We also developed pathways for transportation of COVID patients; mapping out the site to prevent the spread of the virus.

Communication and visibility have been core parts of my role. I've spent a lot of time touching base with our teams, answering questions and staying up-to-date with the latest provincial directives.

Describe how your team has performed during the pandemic.

In our Emergency Departments, we have done a lot of work to separate our waiting rooms into zones to minimize potential exposure to the virus. Active screening of our patients takes place at triage to determine if they have a high potential for having COVID.  Initial screening is very important to ensure we place our patients appropriately. In addition, there are ongoing discussions among the Emergency Program teams to determine how we will support potential increases in COVID patients across our sites.

We've worked closely with many of our partners throughout the pandemic­­­ including Niagara Emergency Medical Services (NEMS). We developed a Destination Protocol – as a joint project with NEMS – so patients with a high potential for the virus could be transported directly to the St. Catharines Site COVID units. 

The pandemic has challenged us every day, and I am so proud to work with a team who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to our staff, patients and our community.

How has patient care changed through the pandemic?

The biggest change in patient care is that everything we do has to minimize the spread of the virus. From casual conversations at the bedside to high-risk procedures, we have to consider the personal protective equipment required for every patient interaction.

We've gained an in-depth understanding of the virus, including how to manage symptoms, oxygen requirements and the nature of care required. As the virus is quite aggressive, our teams have had some difficult conversations with patients and families. Many of our patients are dealing with multiple health challenges - especially our older adult patients - and we've been educating them on what to expect with the virus.

We've also moved to virtual visits between patients and families. The pandemic has encouraged us to think outside the box, using FaceTime to connect patients virtually with their loved ones, when they can't be there in person.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

I was a candy striper at our Niagara Falls Site when I was 13 years old. I've always loved healthcare and knew I wanted to be a nurse. I love caring for patient and families. It is very rewarding career. I also knew there were many different job opportunities with a nursing degree.

What has been the biggest challenge for you personally through COVID?

The biggest challenge has been finding balance between my professional and personal commitments. I have a very supportive family at home, but my mom is older, and I'm always concerned about how she is doing. My husband who is self-employed, had different challenges through the pandemic, and it was important for me to be supportive of him.​

How do you wind down after work?

I exercise a lot – walking and running or going for bike rides – which are great stress relievers. I try to stay healthy and eat well. Now that the weather is nicer, I make a point of getting outside to get fresh air. I also read books that are unrelated to work to clear my mind.

Niagara Health System