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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to lockdowns, closures, and isolation all for a great cause - ensuring the health of Canadians as much as possible. We also do this to keep from overwhelming the Canadian healthcare system with overcrowded hospitals and a lack of resources.

Our healthcare heroes on the frontline including doctors, nurses, surgeons, and all hospital staff are risking exposure to COVID-19 each day they go to work as they battle the virus and take care of those who have contracted it.

We spoke with Dr. Mylène Côté, a Telfer Master in Health Administration (MHA ‘17) alumna, who is amongst those working on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Côté is a physician at the Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) and a Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Learn more about her experience at the hospital since COVID-19 has set in:

While many of us are riding this out from the comfort of our own homes and are settling into our new physically distant routines, can you tell us a bit about how your daily life has changed and what has been the biggest adjustment for you?

“Although I still go to work on a daily basis to take care of sick patients that require admission to the hospital, the way I deliver care has changed tremendously; there is a constant fear. I disinfect everything I touch: my computer, my pager, my stethoscope, etc. Not only do we try to respect social distancing from colleagues, we also do the same with patients. I don’t have the same connection that I use to have with them.

I also have a very strict routine to come back home. I bring a spare set of clothes to work, and change into them before getting in my car. Then, when I get home, I disinfect the surfaces I touched in the car, and then when I get inside the house, I take a shower immediately.

The biggest adjustment has been to accept the uncertainty and the rapid pace of change; guidelines and practices at our hospital change daily. We are always planning for a rapid increase of admitted patients. We are planning for the worst, and hoping for the best.”

How has it impacted your work-life balance?

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on work-life balance. My husband, who is currently working from home, needs to find a way to work while also entertaining and taking care of our two young children. We are both working on our computers in the evening, which doesn’t leave much time to clean the never-ending mess!”

When the news first broke out in February that this Coronavirus might be spreading to a pandemic level, what were the thoughts going through your head?

“There was a lot of tension and anxiety. We had so many questions and not a lot of answers. To cope with the uncertainty, we started building risk mitigation strategies. I have to admit that my department and the leaders at Queensway Carleton Hospital did an amazing job at organizing, preparing, and building surge capacity. Everyone got together to help plan for the worst.”

How did the Queensway Carleton Hospital react to the news?

“QCH has been doing a tremendous job in this pandemic. From the beginning, the organization has set an example for the rest of the city. From opening a drive-through Covid-19 testing unit, to transforming a hotel into hospital rooms for our stable patients awaiting long term care. \

Since the beginning, QCH has been screening everyone coming in to work, holding bi-weekly town house meetings for physicians and the leadership team to make sure everyone is always up to date. QCH has been very innovative and proactive in this pandemic.”

As a physician, clearly the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted many things for you and your teams. How were you able to pivot your activities to respond to the influx of cases in the Ottawa region?

“Because we did not know what to expect, we have been doing a lot of work preparing for the worst. This is where the skills I learned in my MHA have been useful.

I was tasked with recruiting physicians from outside our hospital. We were worried that if the number of patients were to get high and that physicians got infected; we were going to have a shortage of physicians. Through different channels of communication, I was able to recruit some new physicians, which were given temporary privileges.

We also created backup schedules in case any members of our team got infected or needed to be tested. We also increased the number of physicians working during the weekend.

And finally, we created a capacity plan with different tiers as the number of patients increases.

Luckily, the overall number of admitted patients has been lower than usual, so we have not needed to initiate all of those strategies.”

As a doctor, manager, mother, wife and concerned citizen, many aspects of your reality deal directly with COVID-19. Are you able to kickback, relax and disconnect from the daily news? If so, how?

“I think it is essential to disconnect from the daily news. It’s too easy to spend a lot of time reading the news or looking at social media which only continues to feed the fear inside of us. When I am at home with the kids, I turn off my phone and spend as much time playing with them as possible, doing puzzles, crafts, Lego, etc.

I also try to use my bike to commute to work, weather dependent, which really helps me to decompress. And finally, I like to meditate at night, before bed, which helps me sleep better. Otherwise, my mind never stops thinking of the next day.”

What do you wish you could tell all of us who are impatiently waiting to get back to a new form of normal?

“Be patient…

I think “new form of normal” is the correct wording; I don’t think we will go back to the normal we used to know for a very long time. There will most certainly be new waves as we start lifting social distancing measures, and I expect things to get worse before they get better, but that is just my feeling.

However, I also think good things will come out of this unfortunate time: innovative ideas and projects are being implemented as this is a real burning platform, people are bonding more with their family and we are creating a stronger sense of community.”

Thank you to Dr. Côté for your great insights and information about the measures taking place in the city of Ottawa during this pandemic. We thank you and all of our healthcare workers for risking your health everyday to support Canadians impacted by COVID-19.

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