Island Health ambassadors protect patients, staff and physicians from COVID-19

“Hello, welcome to Nanaimo hospital. Can you please tell me the reason for your visit today?” 

Bev Groenewold is by nature a friendly person, but the pediatric nurse at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital typically doesn’t greet people at the front doors of the facility. Groenewold and dozens of other Island Health staff have been redeployed by the health authority during the COVID-19 pandemic to act as patient ambassadors, greeting people at entrances to acute care sites and long-term care homes across Vancouver Island in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Our ambassadors play such a valuable and integral role in protecting patients and staff from COVID-19,” says Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Public Health. “Their presence helps to foster important conversations with people wishing to enter our facilities and we are so grateful for their willingness to support patients, staff and visitors during this challenging time.”

“We try to be friendly and welcoming because many people are afraid to come here right now,” says Groenewold. “It’s important to be able to screen people before they come in so they are not exposing anybody else to COVID-19.”

In March, when visitor restrictions were implemented at healthcare facilities, Island Health quickly realized the importance of placing staff at facility entrances to help people understand if their visit is essential and meets current visitor guidelines. 

“We know that the risk of spread increases with every person who enters a facility,” says Victoria Schmid, Executive Lead - Experience and Executive Director of Quality, Safety and Improvement. “Ambassadors ensure that when you enter an Island Health facility, there is someone to greet you and support your needs.”

Ambassadors ask a series of questions to determine if people wishing to enter facilities have any COVID-19 symptoms, if they have travelled outside of the country, and the nature of their visit. If visits are determined to be non-essential, ambassadors suggest other ways to connect with loved ones in care, such as phone or video calls. They also encourage hand hygiene for anyone entering or exiting an Island Health facility.

Louise Gilfoy is a nurse at the Ladysmith Community Health Centre. She typically works in medical daycare and urgent care but is currently in an ambassador role.

“I think people appreciate a friendly face to guide them to where they need to be if they have an appointment, as well as provide a quick assessment of them for COVID-19,” she says. 

Ambassadors are also stationed at emergency departments across the Island. Part of their role is to help people better understand if their visit to the emergency department is essential or if they can also be served by calling their physician’s office or a walk-in clinic, or by visiting an urgent and primary care centre. 

“Emergency department ambassadors ensure we don’t have free flow traffic coming into our facilities and also protect people with non-emergency conditions who might also be served at urgent care from coming into a place where there might be a higher level of disease burden,” explains Schmid.

Royal Jubilee Hospital nurse Maeve Hodge has been greeting and screening people who arrive at the RJH emergency department. 

“Having ambassadors in place also allows fellow healthcare providers to focus on their patients rather than doing the COVID-19 screening themselves. It helps to expedite the whole care system rather than overburdening it right now,” she explains.

At the Chemainus Health Care Centre long-term care entrance, Ambassador Ingrid Cline plays a slightly different role. Currently, visitors are not permitted at long-term care facilities so Cline screens all staff and essential workers entering the facility, taking their temperatures and screening for other symptoms of COVID-19. 

“It is very important for residents to feel safe inside and for family members of those we care for in this facility to be confident we are doing the best we can and following all protocols to keep their loved ones safe,” says Cline. 

Until a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, Island Health will focus on ensuring there is as little foot traffic as possible through its facilities. As things continue to change and evolve through the pandemic, further training will be provided to ambassadors to help them continue to support conversations with visitors to healthcare sites.

“We care about your health - it’s important for communities to know that,” says Ambassador Groenewold. “Part of caring for people is making sure they are protected.”

About Island Health:
Island Health provides health care and support services to more than 800,000 people on Vancouver Island, the islands in the Salish Sea and the Johnstone Strait, and mainland communities north of Powell River. With more than 22,000 staff and over 2,000 physician partners, 6,000 volunteers, and the dedicated support of foundations and auxiliaries, Island Health delivers a broad range of health services, including: Public health services, primary health care, home and community care, mental health and addictions services, acute care in hospitals, and much more across a huge, geographically diverse region.

Cowichan/South Island media inquiries
Cheryl Bloxham

Central/North Island media inquiries
Dominic Abassi