Interior Health’s South Okanagan executive director of clinical operations, Carl Meadows, says he, alongside staff at the Penticton Regional Hospital, are ready for COVID-19. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)

‘We’re ready’ for COVID-19, says South Okanagan health care director

“I will be there with my team until the last of the COVID-19 pandemic is over” - Carl Meadows

He’s been there before, and he’ll do it again; a local hospital director and leader of frontline workers says he, alongside staff at the Penticton Regional Hospital, are ready for COVID-19.

Interior Health’s South Okanagan executive director of clinical operations, Carl Meadows, is speaking out both to encourage locals amidst uncertain times and to share some important information.

He clarified he was speaking from his perspective, and not on behalf of the health authority.

“Our teams are prepared, and we’re aware, and things are changing very quickly,” he said. “But we’re on the front lines… We’re ready.

“We have great people. And those great people are prepared.”

In the South Okanagan, he said they’re following the direction of the provincial health officer.

READ MORE: High demand for plexiglass as Shuswap businesses seek to protect public, staff

In times like these, he said there are a few things that don’t help frontline medical workers.

“Rumours are not helpful. Things like hoarding and stealing equipment is not helpful,” he said. “We actually have watched people walk in to our site, grab a handful of masks and walk out.”

This is not his first pandemic. Meadows was in the health system during SARS and Ebola, he was involved in coordinating evacuations during wildfires, as well as floods, and he said they all share one thing: “You see the best, and the worst, of humankind.”

Since the pandemic began, Meadows said he’s seen a variety of behaviors exhibited by members of the community.

“You have the people that have no regard for following really sound science around isolations, you have people that have no regard for others, they will break rules,” Meadows said. “And then you have people that are very, very compliant and taking this very, very seriously. So you’ve got a whole range of experiences.

“When you’re in healthcare, and you’re in the thick of it, you see all of that.”

Meadows took to social media on March 24 to reassure locals and remind them to practice good health habits.

“My intention was to just say hey, from the healthcare perspective, we’ve got this,” he said. “We can’t be more prepared.”

Currently, the hospital in Penticton is highly restrictive, and intense visitor restrictions are in place. There are screeners at every entrance. Meadows says they’re not taking any chances.

“And they’re going to ask you tough questions,” he explained. “People think oh, it’s just a cold. And it could be. And most likely it probably is influenza, Rhino virus or something else, but we’re not taking any chances.”

Currently if an individual goes to the hospital’s emergency entrance with a cough, they will be screened. If they go through other entrances, there will be screeners who will meet them and not allow them into the building. If the individual needs lab work and they have symptoms, they will be required to wear a mask.

Asked how the South Okanagan community as a whole has been through the pandemic so far, Meadows confidently responded, “Excellent.”

“I asked the question today, I said to my teams who were doing the screenings; how have the humans been to you? They said 80 per cent great, 20 per cent grumpy. I said well, that’s okay, they can be grumpy.

“But our job is to make sure we’re protecting them. And they may not like us today, but they’ll like us tomorrow.”

Currently in the hospital, frontline workers are following a ‘droplet’ precaution, meaning they are protecting themselves from individuals who have active coughs. This, he said, is not a new precaution.

Stepping back from COVID-19, Meadows explained that in the Penticton hospital, they are always prepared to deal with individuals with flu-like symptoms. Long before the outbreak of the coronavirus, infection control practitioners have been in place at the hospital who look at the site’s long-term care homes, and when there’s infections or outbreaks, the organism is identified and the associated precaution is put in place.

“This is not new to us. This is what we do,” he said. “We’re no different than we were before.”

Shortage of medical supplies in some parts of the province has prompted members of the public to sew gowns and masks for frontline workers. Distilleries have stepped up to help make hand sanitizer.

“At this point, we have a supply chain. And we’re currently looking at all of our inventories, and I believe the province has enough supplies. It’s about making sure that the areas that need them, get them,” he said.

If he could convey one thing, Meadows said he would say this message: Everybody should have a link to the BC Centre for Disease Control (CDC) where you can find screening algorithms, up-to-date information. For the facts, Meadows said, turn there. You can also download the CDC app on your phone.

Additionally, he thanked the kind-hearted people bringing food to the hospital, but said they cannot accept it. Instead, he encouraged locals to donate to a charity of their choice, food bank or local business in need.

“I have never worked with such dedicated humans in my life,” reads Meadow’s post. “I will be there with my team until the last of the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

READ MORE: Penticton restaurant owner’s generosity triggers waterfall of community support

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