A team on COVID’s front line

News / Patient Care
By John Pereira

KHSC’s Covid-19 Assessment Centre keeping community safe one swab at a time

For Cindy Bolton and Ashley Hendry the COVID-19 pandemic began with a request – to create Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s (KHSC) COVID Assessment Centre (AC) and have it open in less than a week. Four days after the initial ask, their team was operational, swabbing the first members of the community for COVID-19.

“I don’t think we fully knew the scope of what we were getting into in the first few days,” says Bolton, KHSC’s Director of Community Partnerships. “We opened the centre in a space at our Hotel Dieu Hospital site that consisted of a waiting room, registration space and just three medical exam rooms.”

Within days lineups began to wrap around the block and it was clear the Assessment Centre needed a new home to accommodate the growing number of people in the community that required testing. Just a week after it opened, the centre was on the move, opening its doors to the public at Kingston’s Memorial Centre on March 21, 2020.

“Turning an empty hockey arena into a COVID testing site wasn’t the easiest of tasks. KFL&A Public Health led the transition to the Memorial Centre while drawing on the experience Ottawa had in setting up in an arena,” says Bolton. “A great partnership between KHSC, Public Health, the City of Kingston, Frontenac Paramedics and the primary care community really helped the transition go smoothly.”

However, an early heat wave at the end of May had the partners once again looking for a new location as the Memorial Centre became unbearably hot for both staff and patients. Plans were now in place to move to the air conditioned Leon’s Centre for the summer. This, just as Kingston was hit with its first major outbreak related to a business in the city’s west-end.

“We saw line ups of people wrapped around the Memorial Centre and went from testing 80 people a day to over 700,” says Bolton. “Despite the 6-8 hour waits the community was very understanding, arriving at the front of the line thankful to be swabbed.”

Packing up and moving in the midst of this surge in demand for community testing was something that the team would become familiar with. Relocating once again, this time from the Leon’s Centre to the Beechgrove complex in the midst of September back to school testing. At the same time, KHSC was working with Queen’s University’s Student Wellness Centre to open an on campus assessment option for students.

The introduction of an online appointment booking system helped, as lineups shank even though the demand did not. However, no matter what building the Assessment Centre has called home, it’s been their team that has been the ‘heart’ of the whole operation.

“Over the course of the year, many staff have come and gone, however it continues to be what makes us so strong,” says Ashley Hendry, Manager of the Assessment Centre. “It’s not been an easy year, you have to be able to adapt quickly and learn on the fly. What makes it easier is the team which is one of the best that I have ever worked with. We laugh, we cry, we get mad about all things COVID, but no matter what, we come back each day to work together and help our community.”

“I look back with a lot of pride of all the work we’ve done. The team has done so many great things together to make the experience as positive as we can our patients. We know it can be stressful, especially if you’re waiting in line with young kids. We’ve gone through thousands of lollipops, stickers and finger puppets to help make it little easier.”

Meanwhile, as the third wave of the pandemic is still in full swing in Ontario, the demand for the tests in the region has hit new heights. March 2021 was the busiest month on record with nearly 17,000 swab tests completed, pushing their one year total to over 80,000.

“We have a great team and I know we will work well to get through this together. Some of the lessons we’ve learned have also been applied to other areas of the organization such as the vaccination clinic,” says Hendry. “I know that we have the full support of everyone at KHSC and along with our partners, we are all working together to do whatever is needed for our community.”

For more information on the Assessment Centre, or if you or a loved one need to book an appointment visit: https://kingstonhsc.ca/patients-families-and-visitors/covid-19-informati...