This month, we sat down with Cathryn Phillips, a personal support worker (PSW) at SHN, to learn more about her experience navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as a frontline worker at Scarborough Health Network. Cathryn has been working at SHN for 8 years and was born and raised in Scarborough.
1. Tell us about your experience when the first COVID-19 cases arrived in Scarborough and at SHN.
I don’t recall when the first case came through the doors of SHN, however I do recall the shift in atmosphere around the hospital – the daily updates, the constant chatter about the virus, the worry from co-workers, patients and their families. My biggest concern was for my patients though. What if the virus runs through the hospital like SARS did? I did not work during SARS but I have heard the stories from many, so it was scary to think about.
2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impact your daily life, both professionally and personally?
The biggest impact on me personally was having to isolate myself from my children and grandchildren. When the pandemic began, I truly believed it would run a quick course and be over with in no time, but that was not the case. Like so many others, I had to celebrate birthdays with drive-by party parades, recognize holidays over the phone and isolate at home.
Even with the risks, I felt fortunate to be able to leave home and go to work. I was also lucky to work on the transitional care unit, so our admissions were not COVID patients, but seniors. It was a daily concern about the “what ifs,” but I chose not to put so much thought into that. Instead, I focused on caring for our patients and supporting those colleagues who were directly on the frontlines of COVID-19.
Our team at SHN is amazing and we did whatever we could to keep our patients safe.
3. What did it mean to you and your fellow frontline workers to see the immense community support coming in?
The support that our community came forward with was, in a word, awesome. From the signs posted outside, to the donations of all kinds and all amounts. It was truly appreciated by all of us working at SHN and touched our hearts like you couldn’t imagine. I believe this virus and its unknowns scared everyone in one way or another, but seeing the community rally behind our hospitals and our frontline workers like this proved that we are stronger together.
4. What is your favourite part about working at SHN and with the Scarborough community?
I’ve worked at SHN since 2012, and have had the opportunity to work on medicine units, in the emergency department and now the transitional care unit. I truly love my job. I'm enjoying working with patients and being part of a healthcare team. I find my career incredibly rewarding. And now, as we continue working to navigate this pandemic, I can really feel the sense of community at SHN, stronger than ever before.
My role as a PSW can be challenging at times, but I am blessed to have coworkers who have the same drive to care for our senior patients. We may all have different ways of performing our duties, but at the end of the day, our goals are the same – to keep our patients healthy and to deliver exceptional care. My absolute favorite part of my job is the team I work with. My colleagues are awesome people, and together, we make our unit the best it can be for Scarborough patients.
5. What inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare?
In 1995, I was fortunate to get a job in a day program. I assisted people with disabilities and I absolutely loved it – it was so rewarding in so many ways. Helping seniors quickly became my most favourite part of the role. Sadly, I had to leave when my family and I moved north of the city.
Since then, I worked in various jobs, but never felt the same reward as I did from the day program, so I decided to go back to school and got my PSW certification. I have worked in both LTC and hospital settings, and joined Scarborough Health Network after moving back to Scarborough once my youngest child was accepted to York University.
As a born-and-raised member of the Scarborough community, this been the one place I keep coming back to. For me, this is home, and I’m thrilled that I’m able to do my part for those in the community who need it most.