How an East Toronto hospital got ahead of COVID-19

Sarah Downey first heard about COVID-19 (back when it was still just a ‘mysterious new virus’) on January 15 from Dr. Jeff Powis, Michael Garron Hospital’s medical director of infection prevention and control (IPAC) — she remembers because he’ll often remind everyone of this.

The IPAC team had been following the situation in Wuhan closely. Downey, president and CEO of Michael Garron, says the team is often the first to know and understand outbreaks. But for everyone else, the novel coronavirus felt a bit like an abstract.

So when Powis started saying this would be “the one we have to react to,” Downey and her team tuned in. By late January, the hospital had already started a high-level response.

Since then, Michael Garron Hospital — formerly known as Toronto East General Hospital — has run one of the most visible personal protective equipment (PPE) drives (more than 400 people have dropped off enough enough PPE to fill a meeting room) and a massively successful campaign for 1,000 hand-sewn masks a week (where they received 40,000 homemade masks).

An incredible feat more comparable to a flashy downtown academic health centre than a community hospital tucked away in a residential neighbourhood.

“The amazing thrill is the resilience of these Toronto communities and how that helps lift our spirits in here,” says Downey. “They make us want to be even better fighters of COVID-19.”