CFN 1 on 1 With Cornwall Community Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Lorne Scharf on COVID-19

CFN 1 on 1 With Cornwall Community Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Lorne Scharf on COVID-19

SEPTEMBER 5, 2020 – We were very lucky recently as CCH was gracious enough to allow us to ask a few questions of its Chief of Staff, Dr. Lorne Scharf about COVID-19.

Here are our questions and his answers:

CFN

How did you feel the first time you encountered a Covid-19 patient first hand?   

Dr. Lorne Scharf

The first time I encountered a COVID19 patient first hand was definitely a little bit frightening. It was becoming a reality. Until then, it was about news headlines, meetings, preparing the hospital, discussing virology and infection control, and all the other preparatory stuff that we did.

For the first few seconds that I looked at this patient I was in a bit of shock, but then I said to myself, “this is what we prepared for.” It was not a surprise, but rather an inevitability and it happened. It is my job to be there when patients are sick and society faces these events –

I felt very thankful that we spent time getting ready. I knew that we had the tools we needed, the policies to practice safely, and I also knew that we would rapidly adapt and incorporate any new information into how we provide the best care possible.

So, when I encountered this person, I realized that I was ready to help them, and work with my CCH team.

CFN

CCH has had relatively few cases, which of course is a blessing; how do you feel your staff handled the first challenges and are you ready for Wave Two?   

Dr. Lorne Scharf

Hospital staff have really been amazing. We got to see new leaders developing and we also saw an incredible collaboration in our hospital, and between hospitals.

Leadership from the CCU (Critical Care Unit) and Anesthesia rolled out “protected” policies, which are safe ways to deliver life-saving resuscitative care to patients in respiratory and cardiac arrest, while minimizing the potential to spread COVID19. Our surgical and obstetric teams developed ways that we could screen and then safely perform emergency surgical and routine obstetric procedures.

The Emergency Department reorganized geographically to have COVID19 infection control incorporated into our every step. Negative pressure rooms were updated, and several were added. Environmental Services are going to be looked back on as the real heroes in this battle, as cleaning measures are so important. Our ES team as CCH has been incredible.

These are just some examples. The department managers and clinical leads did a great job. I also should not leave out that we all felt supported and well led by our hospital’s senior team and Board of Directors.

We are even more ready for a possible wave two because we now have experience. However, I will mention that our current challenge is catching up on some of the work that got delayed in all our COVID19 preparations.

Right now, we need to provide our community with the surgeries, diagnostic tests and imaging tests that they have been waiting for during COVID19. I want our community to know that we are working to catch up, evaluating each case individually.

CFN

With cold and flu season coming are there specific challenges or worries?   What is your advice for the public to help protect themselves?   How can patients discern when to come in for possible Covid issues rather than just the flu and can a person have the flu and then catch COVID-19?

Dr. Lorne Scharf

COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory virus, like the Flu or the common cold. It is not easy to distinguish between these entities on a clinical level. They can all present as fever, cough, etc.

Every fall and winter we do see a surge in volume and severity of respiratory tract infections, and this will likely be the case this season too. The best thing people can do is prepare by getting a flu shot, staying healthy and making sure they know what to do if they get sick.

There are some great online resources to help people differentiate the common cold from a more severe illness like influenza or COVID19. A good one is this Choosing Wisely Link: https://choosingwiselycanada.org/colds-flu-respiratory-illnesses-dont-rush-antibiotics/

It is important to remember a few things:

  • If you don’t feel well, you should call your doctor. Make sure you know what number to use to call them – and if they are part of a group (like a Family Health Organization or FHO)
  • Get your seasonal flu shot, and make sure your child is up to date on their routine immunizations
  • Look online to see if you may have a cold or the flu (at a site like the link above)
  • You do not need antibiotics for a cold
  • If you feel very sick, such as dehydrated or short of breath, please come to see us in the ER. That is what we are there for. Even if someone has mild illness, if they have a lot of medical conditions, we want them to be properly evaluated. Never ignore serious symptoms!
  • When coming to the ER or your doctor, please wear a mask and follow our rules – this is for the safety of our patients and staff
  • If you need a COVID19 test, call the Cornwall Assessment Center and make an appointment at 613-938-4240 ext. 5420

CFN

With limited personal physicians available pre Covid,  Emergency rooms at hospitals felt a strain across Ontario.   At the same time some patients have had concerns because of COVID to attend a hospital.  In your opinion when should they consider attending CCH?  Are there steps they should take prior to coming?

Dr. Lorne Scharf

It is safe to come to Cornwall Community Hospital. We have beefed up our cleaning routines and we follow public health guidelines. Our staff have the equipment and support they require to provide safe and clean care to our patients.

The Hospital requests that all visitors, patients, and staff follow the rules of public health when they come on site. This means:

  • Wear a mask at all times (with some exceptions, like when eating)
  • Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizers
  • Maintain safe distance in accordance with public health guidelines
  • If you are sick, do not come to visit

Having taken these precautions, patients should feel reassured that CCH is a safe place to come. In fact, because we take cleaning and infection control so seriously, be confident coming to your hospital when you are unwell because that is what we are here for!

CFN

There is a lot of false information circulating social media.   One of the biggest areas are the wearing of face coverings or masks which have been proven to be effective in limiting the spread of viruses.    It’s also been documented that even people with issues like COPD and Asthma should still wear a mask when shopping or in situations where they can’t social distance safely.   Should we all be wearing masks when shopping or doing an indoor activity at this stage?

Dr. Lorne Scharf

In short, yes. We should all wear a mask when going out in public. Rather than answer this myself, I will direct you to some excellent online resources:

Health Canada Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html

Eastern Ontario Health Unit Link: https://eohu.ca/en/covid/face-coverings-and-face-masks

I always wear a mask when I go out. I also wear my mask all shift in the ER, which is for over ten hours at a time! While understood this is not fun or particularly enjoyable, it really is one of the best safety steps a person can take. It protects you and the people around you. Please wear a mask in public and in our Hospital.

CFN

With schools opening are you concerned about higher case counts as we’ve seen in other countries when they reopened schools?

Dr. Lorne Scharf

As a parent, I believe in school and I am pleased that my children are going back to school. Kids need school for education and social development. I also feel that it is important to take every step possible to make the return to school safe for the students, teachers and families.

All parents need to be familiar with their school’s policies regarding face covering, what to do when a child or family member is sick, and how to communicate to the school regarding these matters.

CFN

Recently CCH released a heart warming story about a COVID patient at CCH.   Can you share more about how important success stories like that one are for your team?

Dr. Lorne Scharf

The most touching and meaningful reports are patient stories like this one. So often, we are focused on the big picture, and with COVID19 preparation this was certainly the case. Reading the story of this patient was a reminder of why we do this job. The impact we have on our patients’ lives is enormous – and it is so nice to see how what we do really matters. I hope that every single person that works at CCH reads this story – and we all share in the satisfaction of knowing we helped.

CFN

What has amazed you most about this Pandemic?

Dr. Lorne Scharf

I am very proud to be Canadian. Our country and governments have demonstrated solid leadership and we are performing well as compared to other countries.

So, at this point, I am really amazed at how we are handling the challenge. Everyone is playing their part. I see people in the community masking up and doing the right thing. Families are supporting one another. Businesses are creating safe environments. Hospitals and other care facilities are adapting and meeting the need.

We will come through this soon and I am optimistic about developing treatments and vaccines. Once this is over, I have no doubt that we will be proud of our hard work, courage, sense of community and ethical actions. What has amazed me most about this pandemic is how amazing our people are!

Dr. Lorne Scharf, BComm, MDCM, MHCM, FCFP(EM), was born and raised in Montreal. He completed his undergraduate degree, medical degree, and post graduate medical training at McGill University and St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal.

Dr. Scharf also has a Masters Degree from the Harvard University School of Public Health, where his focus was Hospital Quality Management and Public Health Policy.

After spending some time doing temporary locum work in Ontario and Quebec, Dr. Scharf made Cornwall his permanent practice in 2004. Formerly the Chief of the Emergency Department, Dr. Scharf is now the Chief of Staff and works in the Emergency. Sometimes Dr. Scharf can also be found working in the ER at Glengarry Memorial Hospital or doing some office work at the McConnell Medical Walk-In Clinic.

Lorne is married, has three daughters, and appreciates the privilege of serving the populations of Cornwall, Akwesasne, and the surrounding areas.

Photo: Dr. Scharf on the left with Dr. Alan Rosenbloom in action at CCH.