The 2020-2021 fiscal year can be summarized with one phrase: "Together WE Stay Strong". It is a motto depicted on banners hanging on the walls of our campuses, and it is depicted on our t-shirts and on our WRH merchandise. Yet above all, it signifies a resiliency never before experienced by our staff in an unprecedented year, which has been accomplished by teamwork and looking out for one another.
In a year that threw challenge upon challenge at healthcare workers, the 4,000-plus staff at Windsor Regional Hospital proved that nothing – not even a global pandemic - can get in our way of delivering Outstanding Care, No Exceptions! Despite both physical and mental exhaustion, our frontline workers continued to focus on the fundamental reasons they entered the profession in the first place – our patients.
This 2020-2021 annual report looks back on the 12-month period from April 2020 until the end of March 2021, as we battled against an invisible foe that no one ever anticipated. We always have a pandemic plan prepared in advance, but putting those plans into action when the variables are constantly changing are two distinct matters.
While facing the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, we also faced challenges with the implementation of a new Hospital Information System (HIS), while at the same time rallying the community behind plans for a new acute care hospital.
These were 12 months filled with many sleepless nights, but challenging and rewarding ones where we were tasked with the honour of helping lead our community through the most turbulent times of our generation.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Valuable lessons were learned over the course of this pandemic; in particular, the value of our community partners. This 12-month period began with an agreement between Windsor Regional Hospital and St. Clair College to transform the school’s SportsPlex into a field hospital, with the first patients arriving from the Heron Terrace long-term care home just two weeks later. With laser-focused vision, staff at both facilities created a comfortable hospital environment for COVID-positive patients.
One of the most devastating impacts of this virus was its isolating nature, which was required to keep people safe and prevent further transmission. As a result, WRH introduced Virtual Visits in an attempt to offer some comfort to patients and their families. Organizations donated iPads which became the communications lifeline for families to see their loved ones. It was heartwarming at times, yet heartbreaking at others. More than 225 COVID-19 patients have died in our hospital during this pandemic. Our staff provided healthcare, but also great comfort, holding their hands as they took their final breaths.
“Wave 1” of the COVID-19 pandemic was followed by an intense “Wave 2,” when our capacity concerns reached dangerous levels, leading us to request the assistance of other hospitals to care for some of our patients. WRH was able to reciprocate in Wave 3, when we had sufficient capacity to offer some reprieve to hospitals in the GTA and Manitoba that were overwhelmed.
Tears were not only shed in times of sorrow, but also in times of joy when we vaccinated the first group of long-term care workers at the St. Clair College Sportsplex on December 21, 2020. Vaccine scheduling often amounted to solving a sliding block puzzle, with shipment uncertainty impacting the schedule. The partnerships that were enhanced and prospered with Windsor Regional Hospital and the University of Windsor, City of Windsor, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, and St. Clair College have lead the charge to tackle this unprecedented vaccination campaign. Still, the ability of Windsor-Essex to largely avoid the third wave of the virus compared to other Ontario jurisdictions provided ample proof that vaccines are key to lower transmission rates and hospitalizations. Please continue to encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity.
St. Clair College has been a tremendous community partner throughout the pandemic with the Sportsplex being used for a second round as a vaccination centre. Another community partner, the University of Windsor, also stepped up to generously donate the space inside its downtown Windsor Hall building, which became the location of another vaccination centre. Thousands of individuals have since been vaccinated at these post-secondary facilities with incredible efficiency and positive public feedback.
During this time, to avoid a massive breakdown in the province’s healthcare system, thousands of non-urgent and non-emergency surgeries were postponed. Dealing with that backlog, although unavoidable, will take years and we ask for everyone’s patience as we work to complete these procedures as quickly and safely as we can.
We would be remiss not to mention the overwhelming support that came from the community during these unprecedented times. Support came in the donations of personal protective equipment and financial support to the Windsor Regional Hospital Foundation, as well as appreciation parades and frequent notes of thanks that lifted staff spirits.
Support often came in ways often not recognized enough – most importantly, from those residents who followed stay-at-home orders at times when they desperately craved the love and support of being close to friends and family. They missed so many family gatherings -birthdays, weddings, funerals, and holiday celebrations, to name just a few examples - in an effort to prevent further community transmission. Those sacrifices helped reduce the burden on our healthcare system and to that, we owe our Windsor-Essex residents an immense amount of gratitude.
In the midst of the pandemic and following months of planning and training, Windsor Regional Hospital launched a new modern electronic records system. Overnight on April 10th into the early hours of April 11th, WRH became the last of four hospitals in Southwestern Ontario to go live with the Cerner Millennium hospital information system. Our staff worked with the e-VOLVE team to make the transition as seamless as possible. It takes time to feel comfortable navigating a new computer system, but ultimately this will improve patient record keeping and remove long-standing barriers to accessing information about patients who are transferred to WRH from other hospitals in our region.
THE NEW SINGLE-SITE ACUTE CARE HOSPITAL
This 12-month period ended on a positive note when on March 24, 2021, the Ontario government announced $9.8 million in funding to cover ‘Stage 2’ planning costs for the development of a new state-of-the-art acute care hospital. This phase covers the development of a ‘Functional Program’ that will determine how the new hospital will operate and includes a look at staffing, space, and equipment requirements, and examine the flow of patients, staff, and materials throughout the building.
The 2019-2020 fiscal year ended with confidence that the Ministry funding issues that had plagued our Hospital since realignment had been addressed with the exception of our negative working capital position. The Hospital still needed a much-needed cash injection to pay for the new hospital information system, the need for a capital equipment reinvestment program that had been forgone during the many years of underfunding, and the need to bring our working capital to an appropriate amount. The Hospital early in the fiscal year started a process that led to the successful issue of a debenture in November 2020.
In the early months of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health made it clear that they would provide the financial support required for hospitals to meet the additional cost pressures brought upon by the pandemic while meeting the healthcare needs for the communities they serve. The funding mechanisms that the Ministry provided allowed the Hospital to report income from operations of $1.3 million. In addition, it provided one-time funding to support the Hospital’s working capital in the amount of $42.9 million.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR 2021-2022
Moving forward, we must continue to help protect the public from a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus and its many variant forms. We must also focus on addressing the backlog of an estimated 7,000 postponed elective surgeries in the Windsor region. WRH performs about 22,000 non-emergency surgeries per year; therefore, given a bed and human resource capacity, addressing the backlog will take some time.
The work towards the functionality of a new hospital to address the growing needs of residents in Windsor and Essex County will ramp up in the months ahead. This Stage 2 development will take 24 months to complete.
Above all else, we expect 2021-2022 will begin a stable but undoubtedly long recovery period for many in the community and at Windsor Regional Hospital. We hope a glimpse of ‘normal operations’ resumes, with much fewer visitor restrictions and the return of our beloved volunteers.
Although the days of large indoor gatherings, concerts, and sporting events may take some time to normalize, many of us will benefit mentally and emotionally from the return of small gatherings of family and friends, without fear of infection. A high vaccination rate is crucial for this to happen.
Our healthcare system is only as good as the workers immersed within it. At the start of this pandemic, there were concerns raised and research conducted on the long-term mental consequences of this pandemic on healthcare workers and the community at large. We will continue to put our staff needs first and provide guidance on where they can find support when needed.
1995 Lens Avenue, Windsor, ON N8W 1L9
1030 Ouellette Avenue, Windsor, ON N9A 1E1