What it’s like working at one of London’s COVID-19 assessment centres

Through the eyeglasses, over the surgical mask, and under a red cap that protects her hair from germs, you can tell by the blue eyes when nurse Monica Kaszycki is smiling. 

Those eyes light up most when she’s talking about her three daughters, ages six, four and two, who like to do gymnastics routines in the front garden, skip rope and scoot up and down the street. 

They know that mom is a nurse, and they know that right now, she’s working at London’s COVID-19 assessment centres. 

“My girls know that when mommy comes home, I’m covered in invisible germs and I need to go shower and everything gets cleaned before I interact with my family,” Kaszycki says in the staff break room at the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre, a room that is used for Aikido classes and pancake breakfasts when London isn’t in the midst of a global pandemic.

The cleaning routine is part of a new normal for Kaszycki and her family, as well as many other nurses working at the assessment centres. Kaszycki ‘s coat stays in the car so she doesn’t have to bring it into the centre, and there’s an extra pair of shoes in the trunk that she wears home.  

“All of my clothes get taken off and go directly into my washing machine,” she says. “I’m fairly meticulous about it.” 

The kids left hand sanitizer out for the Easter bunny, and the two-year-old reprimands dad when he doesn’t wash her hands for exactly 20 seconds. 

‘Making a bit of a difference’

Kaszycki has been a nurse for 14 years. She was a student when Ontario was in the grips of the SARS outbreak, but remembers the London Health Sciences Centre dealing with H1N1 patients, and preparing for a possible Ebola outbreak. 

Eight years ago, she became a patient safety specialist at LHSC, which took her away from patient bedsides and more to the administrative side of the hospital. These days, however, she’s working directly with patients again, and admits it’s a welcome change. 

“I’ve always missed the patient care and that patient-facing side, so it’s been really refreshing for me to have the opportunity to interact with patients and families and to feel like you’re actually contributing and making a bit of a difference,” Kaszycki said. 

Medical officials have set up the city’s first COVID-19 assessment centre at Oakridge Arena, a suburban hockey arena in the west end. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

At the assessment centre, Kaszycki works 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. She’s worked at both the Oakridge Arena centre and, more recently, at the one near the intersection of Oxford and Adelaide streets. 

Patients pull up in their cars and answer a series of questions, then are either given instructions to go home if their symptoms don’t match COVID-19, for example, or to go into the centre for an assessment. Inside, they’re assessed, their symptoms are recorded, and they might get a further assessment, a test, or be sent home. 

“We work really closely with public health to determine next steps,” Kaszycki said. “Some patients meet requirements for swabbing and others just need really good education and support and discharge information to take home, a list of resources available, how they can keep themselves and their family members safe.” 

A lot of people are overwhelmed and concerned, but people are willing to listen to advice and recommendations, she said. 

Many of the nurses at the assessment centres have been retired for a number of years and have come back to help during the pandemic. 

“I can’t thank them enough because we really couldn’t be running this center without nurses that have decided to leave their retirement and come back,” Kaszycki It’s just really amazing because you get to see all these wonderful people that really have their hearts in the right places and want to make a difference.”

‘We’re well protected’

Although it might seem counterintuitive, Kaszycki says she feels just as safe, if not safer, at work around potentially sick patients than in the community. She chalks that up to taking proper precautions and wearing protective gear. 

Although some nurses at the Carling Heights assessment centre refused to work for a time because they said they weren’t getting proper protective equipment, Kaszycki said she doesn’t feel the same way. 

“We need to understand that we don’t know how long this is going to last or how many patients we’re going to see,” she said. “That’s why it’s really important to conserve (masks and other equipment) right now.

“On a day to day basis, we’ve not been made to feel like we can’t get more. I think we’re very fortunate because we’re well protected and we’re not being asked to work without the supplies that we require.” 

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