Stella Johnson figures her regular job as director of Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre's (RVH's) emergency department and intensive care unit (ICU) is very dependent upon the success of her current focus: running the local clinics intended to crush the spread of COVID-19.
“If we do this right, we keep people out of the ICU and we don’t have them showing up in the emergency department, so I have a vested interest to make sure this works well,” said Johnson, who has been working as the COVID-19 clinic operations director.
“It’s a great opportunity," she added.
Barrie’s former police headquarters has become the primary destination for most things COVID-related and that includes being the local focal point for vaccine delivery.
The Sperling Drive location along the north side of Highway 400 provides COVID testing for 600 to 800 people daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, a cold-and-flu clinic which includes access to a physician and COVID testing seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the capacity to see 60 patients daily, as well as the area’s main location to access the vaccine.
Johnson is ensconced at 29 Sperling Dr., with a growing staff as those services, along with a COVID-19 testing clinic at the Rizzardo Health and Wellness Centre in Innisfil, are fully established.
“Right now, we know that we operate these four, very distinct but co-ordinated clinics,” she said. “We’re really focused on access across the region for individuals who need it. And if that access is testing to make sure you aren't sitting at home worried and concerned, you have the ability to access testing seven days a week.”
The building rhythm of the work, as of Monday, includes a second round of boosters for those who received their first shot when they were first administered in Barrie just before Christmas.
Since Dec. 22, 8,600 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Simcoe-Muskoka, excluding southern Simcoe County, mostly at the Barrie centre.
Johnson says the immunization clinic is a partnership between RVH and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. The focus continues to be the priority group of residents, staff and essential care workers at long-term care and high-risk retirement homes, hospital and other health-care workers.
More staff are being added as the availability of the vaccine increases.
Last week, paramedics were added to help in the after-care area and hiring for immunization and vaccine preparation staff is continuing as more doses of the vaccine becomes available.
“We are over 100 staff now that report into Sperling and continue to recruit actively,” said Johnson.
That includes 34 people working daily in the vaccine clinic that could build to about 50.
Last week, the vaccination clinic was able to administer nearly 1,200 vaccines in one day using staff working on 12-hour shifts, says Johnson, who deemed it a successful pilot program.
The challenge, she added, is to be able to pivot and change how things are done on short notice to accommodate changing circumstances and information. But she credits pre-existing mechanisms allowing the flow of information between the hospital and health unit and the long-term care homes.
Currently, the newest vaccine, Moderna, is not available in this area and Sperling Drive remains focused solely on providing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, with no current plans to add Moderna nor are there current plans to add any locations, Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the health unit took some of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on the road for the first time Monday, administering it to those at two long-term and retirement homes — one in Barrie and another in Orillia.
In addition, Simcoe-Muskoka's medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, said an advisory committee is being struck this week to help devise a plan on how to roll out vaccines when more are sent this way.
The idea is to broaden the process to the entire community by working with partners.
“We do have a planning process in place to be ready to provide that kind of immunization,” he said. “We’re having that group come together in order to help us craft the big plan about how we’ll do this over the weeks and months to come in order to be able to work with those groups as the vaccine becomes more plentiful.”
The committee will have representation from the Indigenous community, pharmacies, long-term care, emergency medical services, paramedic services, and planning organizations.
Gardner said the intention is to work with the province’s timeline of delivering the vaccine to all those who want it by August.
“This is the way in which we will gain control of this pandemic,” he said.