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COVID-19: Retired health-care workers answer call to help on front lines

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Health-care retirees return to front lines to help with vaccinations' COVID-19: Health-care retirees return to front lines to help with vaccinations
WATCH ABOVE: As vaccine supply grows across Canada, more vaccination clinics are opening up. As Caryn Lieberman reports, retired health-care workers are stepping up to help vaccinate – Mar 19, 2021

As COVID-19 vaccine supply ramps up across Canada, the number of vaccination clinics is growing.

“It’s our way of getting our lives back. It is so important that we get everybody vaccinated as soon as we can,” said Lorraine Gonsalves, a retired nurse at Trillium Health Partners’ Mississauga Hospital.

Gonsalves is one of many retired health-care workers who answered the call to help on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis.

She spent 45 years as a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and now she spends 12 hours a day in a vaccination clinic.

Read more: Retired nurses stepping up to help the coronavirus vaccine efforts in London, Ont.

“I just felt that I had something more to give. So when they said, ‘can you come back and vaccinate?’ I thought, yes,” she recalled, adding “You can retire, but you can never stop being a nurse.”

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For Dr. Don Coughlan, a general surgeon who retired just three months ago, returning was a no-brainer.

“It’s extremely satisfying because the patient population we’re dealing with now is the over-80s (age group), they are remarkable people. And it’s a very, very enjoyable thing to do,” he said.

Coughlan joked that he looks forward [eventually] to “time on the golf course … the things you should be doing when you retire.”

Read more: Doctors, nurses coming out of retirement to help New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response

Retired general practitioner Dr. Margaret Crawley is also working in the vaccination clinic and hopes to soon be “flying off somewhere nice and warm.”

She first worked in a COVID-19 test center and when the call came in January to help administer vaccines, she happily obliged.

“People needed help, and that’s what family doctors do — they jump in there and help whenever help is needed,” said Crawley, adding “the way to get out of this mess is to get everybody vaccinated, get them all safe, and then we can go back to doing all our normal things.”

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Jane Cornelius spent years as an ICU Manager at Humber River Hospital before finally retiring.

She had just returned home from a trip to Florida last February when the pandemic began.

Read more: Doctors, nurses coming out of retirement to help New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response

“Then in April, they asked me to come back and help with some of the surge in ICU with the pandemic, because that’s my background. And then I went back into retirement because things settled down,” Cornelius recalled.

That did not last long.

“Now with vaccination, they’ve asked us to come back and help. So it’s been busy. This is very rewarding,” she said.

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“We have nurses that were willing to go to ICU, to vaccination clinic, to case and contact tracing, you name it,” said Doris Grinspun, Chief Executive Officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario.

Read more: Retired nurses in Quebec asked to help deal with influx of COVID-19 calls: health authorities

Last Spring, Grinspun spoke with colleagues in France and Italy and said she immediately put a call out for help from her members, past and present.

“We did it very quickly because we knew what was coming … we got I think over 10,000 nurses, not all retired,” she said.

She laughed as she recalled a conversation with a retired nurse who told her that her shoulder is hurting from giving so many vaccines this week.

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Grinspun called the contribution of nurses who have returned from retirement to work on the front lines “inspiring.”

Read more: Thousands of nurses answer call to help with coronavirus pandemic: ‘This is the way we are’

Back at the Mississauga vaccine clinic, Lorraine Glonsalves vaccinates one person after another.

“I’s our way of getting our lives back. It is so important that we get everybody vaccinated as soon as we can.”

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