For people in recovery mode but too sick to go home

MANITOWANING – Community-run COVID-19 recovery centres are beginning to take shape in Manitowaning and M’Chigeeng First Nation which, when opened, will offer a last-stage level of care before patients recovering from the virus can return to their homes if they need a little extra support.

“Our site is going to be the town arena, so we have a big ante room that we’re going to be able to set up which will be taking in patients who have been discharged from a hospital but still need extra TLC, in case the field hospital gets overflowing,” said Joanne Mellan, a nurse practitioner who works with the Assiginack Family Health Team and will be involved in this clinic.

“It’s for patients who are no longer acute, who don’t require to be potentially intubated or need extra IV fluids, and are almost ready to go home but we’re trying to get them active and stronger here,” Ms. Mellan said.

Sandra Pennie, executive director of the Assiginack Family Health Team, said the facility will have an initial capacity of seven beds but could be expanded to between 10 and 15 should the need arise. These community recovery centres are not affiliated with Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) in any way, although they will be sending and receiving patients between the MHC facilities and the recovery centres as patient conditions change.

“I need to give a shout-out to the township, Assiginack has been fabulous. They’ve stood behind us in all the changes we had to make here at the family health team, and five ladies got together on the weekend to make enough masks so at least every household has one,” she said.

The recovery centre will have a limited staff and volunteers with skills such as personal support workers are being sought to help with the effort. However, since the patients in the recovery centre will generally be past the worst of the virus and simply trying to rebuild their strength, the organizers hope caregiver needs will be relatively low.

There are four oxygen concentrators (which take room air, extract the oxygen and deliver it to a patient) and municipal staff are building two negative pressure rooms for donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Given Cortes has volunteered to lead exercises for the patients and provide some entertainment for those in the facility.

Although the recovery centre will be ideal for those who need to build up some strength near the end of their COVID-19 journey, Assiginack is also seeking spaces that can be used for people who are strong enough on their own but cannot return home in circumstances such as the rest of their co-habitants being vulnerable to the disease.

“We’re referring to those people as the ‘walking well.’ They’re becoming more independent but they may still be infectious so they can’t be at home until they’re identified as being cured. People have been talking about donating their unused RVs, tents and cottages for this since they can’t use them,” said Ms. Mellan.

Dr. Mike Bedard, who works with the Assiginack Family Health Team and will be the clinical administrator of the Little Current field hospital, stressed that while he hopes all communities get their own facilities in operation, the Assiginack recovery centre will not turn people away if they live elsewhere. 

There will likely be two people on staff at any given time in the recovery centre, though these plans are evolving alongside the virus itself and the available manpower. The organizers of this centre are cautious to mind the PPE and staffing needs of the main MHC front-lines and say the recovery centres cannot take resources away from the higher-need parts of the Island health system.

“We’ve had people phoning since the news of the field hospital came out, there were respiratory therapists on the Island that have not been working who have since signed in with MHC to start again, which is awesome, but we’re still looking to see who can volunteer here for both medical help and for things like cooking meals and deliveries,” said Ms. Pennie.

The care beds are now in place at the arena and the facility can be cleaned up and readied for patients in as little as 48 hours when the need arises.

Community-based recovery centres that are run independently of MHC, such as this one in Manitowaning, are aligned with the main health centre’s priorities and initiatives to minimize the impact of the virus.

“The purpose of the step-down recovery centre is all part of the continuum of MHC’s surge plan,” said MHC president and CEO Lynn Foster. “We certainly have a lot of community support, so rest assured, we are prepared (for an increase in cases).”

Facilities such as these for patients who are not in need of major medical attention will be a way to optimize Manitoulin Island’s finite resources as the case numbers continue to increase across Canada.

“Even though we may be in a crisis, we still have to provide the right level of care at the right place, so you have to ensure you have the right equipment to care for the individual,” said Ms. Foster.

M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige said details were still being co-ordinated for her community’s recovery centre and reserved comment until the project reaches a later stage.