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Four things to know about Vaughan hospital’s hectic first year

Baptism by fire: Cortellucci Vaughan's first year was challenging, Mackenzie Health CEO says
May 11, 2022
Kim Zarzour

York Region’s newest hospital hit the ground running when it opened in a pandemic last year.

When Cortellucci Vaughan was first planned as Ontario’s first new hospital in more than 30 years, it was to meet the needs of a growing south York Region.

Then the coronavirus hit and plans took a 180-degree turn.

With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in February 2021, the hospital opened to become the province’s relief valve, a much-needed space for an overstretched health-care system.

When case numbers eased in June, the hospital opened for full service.

One year later, on May 5, President and CEO Altaf Stationwala provided an update to regional council.

Here are the key take-aways:

1.It was a very, very challenging time.

“There were moments where we were not knowing how we would get through the next day,” Stationwala said.

Support from the community helped staff stay the course.

“When the Omicron wave was really surging and we had hundreds and hundreds of staff off sick with COVID and we just didn't know how we were going to provide staffing on certain units, seeing everybody and anybody step up into roles they've never done before, it was just unbelievable.”

In some situations, staff took on very different roles, providing patient care where they had previously been in administrative roles.

“These are the memories that they will probably hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives and the difference that they've made.”

2.Emergency visits are now the biggest challenge.

When the hospital first opened, Vaughan Cortellucci and sister hospital Mackenzie Health in Richmond Hill were predicted to see 375 to 400 emergency department visits.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing about 600 to 700 a day, so clearly a massive increase.

Many of these patients may be coming from neighbouring hospital jurisdictions, although there was no decline in emergency visits to the Richmond Hill site, he said. “Both hospitals are incredibly busy.”

3.COVID remains a challenge.

There is still significant COVID activity in the community, he said.

There are more than 40 COVID patients in both Vaughan and Richmond Hill hospitals as the sixth wave continues, “although it has plateaued and we are hoping for better days in the months to come.”

Visitors to the hospital are required to be vaccinated and masked. Stationwala asked the community to be kind, patient and supportive.

“This sometimes comes with friction at the front door. We know that everybody's tired of the pandemic, our staff are tired as well. We experience at times some challenging interactions at the front door and some heated debate ... We’re doing this to keep people safe.”

4.This challenging year also brought improvements.

Hospitals across the province dropped their previous territorial approaches to allow for movement of patients.

“It demonstrates a team Ontario approach, all of us coming together to help.”

Digital and virtual health also progressed.

Vaughan Cortellucci is entirely paperless and digitally integrated.

There are tablets on every bedside table for patients to watch movies, get educated on their health procedures, communicate with staff, and control room features like temperatures or ordering meals.

Virtual care is producing great outcomes, everything from knee replacement rehab to mental health programs, and every staff member now has an iPhone, which enables them to immediately communicate with patients, staff, and see vital stats and information.

“It really is a different way of working.”