WDGPH nurses’ roles have shifted dramatically during course of pandemic

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, the role of the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) nurses has changed quite dramatically over the last year according to Rita Isley, director of Community Health and chief nursing officer for WDGPH.

Prior to the pandemic WDGPH had nurses working in a variety of areas. There were nurses working in schools to provide immunizations and assessments, clinical nurses, family nurses and nurses developing health promotion programs, to name a few.

There was also a group of nurses working on a control and infectious disease team, which, as Isley noted, is the work that almost every nurse is doing right now across the agency.

“Then we got into the pandemic and at the very onset of the pandemic, all of the nurses were put into two basic pots of work,” she explained.

The WDGPH nurses were separated into two strands of work. One group of nurses was working in the call center to deal with supporting the community members who were having questions or concerns about what was happening with COVID-19 in the community.

The other group of nurses were working on contact tracing and case management for the community’s COVID cases.

“They would call anyone that has tested positive for COVID and make sure that they understood what they needed to do to stay healthy or to get healthy but also how to stop the spread of the disease,” Isley explained.

Once the fall hit, roles shifted again for the nurses. As schools began reopening, WDGPH sent in a group of nurses to work with schools to assist in keeping them safe and healthy in order to control the pandemic spread but also keep schools open and kids in them.

“At the same time that was when we started to see a change in where our outbreaks were happening,” Isley explained. “Prior to the fall, we were having our outbreaks in our long-term care and retirement homes.”

“We had a whole group of people that were working to keep those kinds of congregate settings safe,” she added. “Now we had to switch and start to work on workplaces because that’s where the disease started to switch in the second wave.”

The dynamic shifted once again at the beginning of January when the vaccine rollout began, and nurses were slowly moved into a vaccine team.

Isley noted that the most recent shift is one of largest  to date as many of the nurses are working in the vaccine clinics on a daily basis now with a smaller group continuing to work in congregate settings in the workplace or on case management.

“There have been many times where [the nurses] have been extremely tired and still come to the table and said ‘what else can I do, what else do you need to have done,’” Isley explained.

“I can’t tell you that anyone’s ever told me no,” she added. “I’ve had to tell people no because I can tell just by the looks of their face that they just couldn’t take on this one more task.”

At this time, there are three roles that nurses are taking on: case management and contact tracing, working in congregate settings to keep residents safe through the third wave and administering the vaccine rollout, which Isley noted is the largest share of what public health nurses are working on now.

“The best part of working with this team is the ability to see how much they get out of working at our vaccine clinics and understanding that every needle they put into an arm brings us one person closer to ending this pandemic,” Isley said.