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Pandemic created unprecedented challenges in Niagara and an opportunity to learn

Posted Feb 24th, 2022

This is an opinion column by Niagara Health President and Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Guerriero published in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune

They say that timing is everything. I moved to Niagara and joined Niagara Health three weeks before the global COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

As you would expect, I planned to spend my first 12 months meeting as many people as I could and doing a lot of listening and learning.

These plans came to a screeching halt with the arrival of COVID-19 in Niagara and the urgent need to respond to this unprecedented health crisis.

Although not how I had initially expected, I have learned a lot about the hospital, the region and the health-care system in Niagara since I began working at Niagara Health on Feb. 18, 2020.

I am incredibly proud of the way our team has pulled together, wave after wave, to respond to the unrelenting demands of this pandemic. Our staff and physicians have worked tirelessly, for two years now, to provide safe, compassionate care to our patients and families — often sacrificing their own health and well-being. It would be an understatement to say that our team members are exhausted, having moved mountains to provide care during the last wave which brought unprecedented challenges.

I am also incredibly impressed with the many ways Niagara has demonstrated the true meaning of a kind and caring community. No one could have predicted the prolonged duration of this pandemic, the challenges it would throw at us, and the divisions it would create. Just like we have worked together and supported each other during the pandemic, we will now recover together.

What I quickly learned about Niagara is that people here are very passionate about their hospital. They should be. A hospital is a very special place. It is a place where our families, friends, neighbours and colleagues experience some of the most profound moments of their lives.

The media has an important responsibility to provide factual information about the Ontario health-care system to the public to help with our understanding and inform our decision-making. I deeply value their work locally to bring matters of public interest to the fore. I appreciate the opportunity Metroland Media Group and the Niagara Dailies’ editor-in-chief, Angus Scott, are providing me to use this space to add to that dialogue.

Next month, I plan to write about the challenging choices we made about hospital services during the pandemic to ensure Niagara Health could continue to provide care to those needing acute, emergency and critical care. I’ll look forward to highlighting trends in health care and plans to enhance services for Niagara residents. We are tracking to break ground in early 2023 on the south Niagara site, a state-of-the-art hospital that will be key to modernizing health care in Niagara.

My insights are shaped by 30-plus years of leadership and clinical experience within a variety of health-care settings in Ontario. This includes serving as an assistant deputy minister of health with the provincial Ministry of Health.

A healthier Niagara, Niagara Health’s vision, cannot be achieved by the hospital alone. It must be a partnership with all health-care providers, in all sectors of the health system, in Niagara.

The pandemic has brought this into sharp focus, and we must not miss this opportunity to strengthen individual parts of the health system while also ensuring smooth transitions between providers. To build healthy communities, we must have a strong health system — one that enables each component to function to its fullest capacity, one that is organized to give people access to quality care by the right health professionals, in the right place, at the right time.

We have a unique opportunity to modernize the way we deliver care in Niagara for future generations.

Niagara Health System