Londoners and Thames Valley FHT organize to supply doctor's offices, 'love-bomb' health-care workers

March 20, 2020

The London Free Press article published Mar. 20, 2020

By Randy Richmond

A handful of Londoners have turned some casual conversations into a grassroots effort supplying thousands of gloves and masks to local medical clinics.

And they want more people stuck at home, especially business leaders, to step up and help.

“We all need to get out of this mindset of hurt. It’s really easy to focus on that, but I think the key right now is to band together and be a village,” said Diana House, a London real estate investor and developer.

“Business people are sitting at home right now because their companies are closed. They are the people who need to rise up and say, ‘How can we help?’ “

Help is needed to keep medical clinics and doctors’ offices in London operating, said Dr. Mario Elia, a family doctor and professor of family medicine at Western University.

“If we do end up seeing big numbers over the next few weeks, we want to make sure that family docs can keep seeing patients, safely and timely, and that requires us to have adequate equipment,” he said.

Besides masks and gloves, doctors need eye protection and gowns, he said.

“Some docs are at kind of a critical time, if they do not get more, they may need to close in the near future. One of the issues that has come up in other countries is when health care workers start working in unsafe conditions, they start getting sick and the whole system just collapses.”

Family doctors should be the first place people go when they suspect they have some symptoms of coronavirus, but are not at an urgent stage, Elia said.

The assessment centres should be for those who don’t have a family doctor and whose symptoms aren’t severe, he said.

Elia and House are part of a loose network of medical and non-medical people who began putting their minds to the needs of doctors and medical staff in the coming weeks.

“They are starting to prepare for the coming weeks and potentially months. The question was, ‘Who’s preparing to support them?’ ” House said.

The conversations touched on child care and pet care for doctors and nurses under siege, and where medical professionals might live between shifts to avoid infecting their families.

All those matters remain part of the discussion, but it became clear that getting supplies to medical clinics is the first challenge, House said.

The network found a local supplier and bought, at cost 15,000 pairs of surgical gloves and 700 masks, and began tapping other sources.

There are other places besides doctors’ offices that have masks and gloves, such as nail salons, dental offices, podiatrists, tattoo parlours, spas and veterinarian clinics.

So, they’ve been contacting those businesses, other suppliers, Western University and Fanshawe College for help, House said.

The Thames Valley Family Health Team has taken on the job of coordinating and collecting supplies, and medical students have helped distribute the first supplies to clinics.

“It’s been a really beautiful thing to see the community get together,” House said. “It’s very grassroots, very much evolving. The goal is to keep the medical clinics open for as long as possible to divert as many people away from the hospital as we can.”

The effort has worked so well, the clinics have enough gloves for now, Elia said.

But surgical masks, gowns and eye protection are still needed, he said.

Doctors’ offices are out of swabs, in short supply at the moment in London, but that’s because swabs are being directed to public health officials who are organizing the testing for the virus at emergency departments, Elia said.

House knows dental clinics and other services will need gloves and masks when they re-open, but says the focus now has to be on medical clinics and hospitals.

“I really think we’re in a triage situation and I think the resources need to go to medical first. We are trying to pull as many strings as we can to try to make sure the resources go to the right place,” she said.

“They’re the ones who are going to get us through this. How can we just love-bomb them and shower them with support any way we can to make what’s going to be a very difficult season for them maybe a little bit easier?”

There are going to be dozens of ways ordinary people can help, House said.

“It doesn’t have to be this. It could be finding a health care worker and adopting them and saying, ‘Every time I go to the grocery store, I’m going to buy them groceries.’ “

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