‘Hey, we’re here too!’ Underfunded Scarborough hospitals need donations heading into third pandemic summer

Click to play video: 'Health experts weigh-in on what’s in store this pandemic summer'
Health experts weigh-in on what’s in store this pandemic summer
WATCH: Health experts weigh-in on what’s in store this pandemic summer – Jun 23, 2022

Walking through the Intensive Care Unit of Centenary Hospital, Dr. Martin Betts, Chief and Medical Director of Critical Care at Scarborough Health Network (SHN), reflects on the last two years, as he considers what may still come.

“Our job as physicians, we usually work 20 or 24 weeks a year, we’ve been doing 40, 42 weeks. So in those periods that we’re off, it’s not like you’re relaxing, you’re just trying to process what you’ve been through, sleep off some rough nights. We haven’t had that ability to step away and really unburden all of that,” said Betts.

Click to play video: 'Scarborough Health Network urges Torontonians to donate to its underfunded hospitals'
Scarborough Health Network urges Torontonians to donate to its underfunded hospitals

“I see it in my team, but I also see them moving past that a little bit,” he added.

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The ICU and the ER have been at the heart of the hospital network’s battle with COVID-19.

Betts said his team has been able to properly care for patients throughout the pandemic, thanks in large part to generous donations.

“We were actually able to get a gift from a donor that allowed us to expand the ICU into the other hub we now have … So we went from having 12 spaces to 22 spaces. As you know, in the pandemic, even that wasn’t enough to manage the volume we had. … In fact, we had another ten beds upstairs on top of that just to get enough space,” he recalled.

SHN has big plans to expand and donations will help to make that happen.

“It really is about revolutionizing care for us in Scarborough Health Network. We haven’t had major redevelopment since our inception,” said David Graham, interim CEO of Scarborough Health Network.

“Although we haven’t had any master plan refresh, we’ve been able to provide a lot of great care across our three sites. It’s just within our time now that we’ve been able to show the need and absolutely demonstrate the requirements for it,” he added.

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This week, the SHN Foundation received its largest corporate gift ever.

A $20-million donation from the Northpine Foundation to the Love, Scarborough campaign to build what the hospital calls the “first no-wait Emergency Department in Canada” at Centenary Hospital.

Funding from Northpine will also go into SHN General’s new Diagnostic Imaging Concourse.

“We want to make sure that our community has not only the care they need … but we also want to make sure that the care that we’re providing is in response to the type of care that our community needs so this $100 million fundraising campaign is set to address those needs” said Ryan Bailey, Vice-President of Community Development, SHN Foundation.

He said the Love, Scarborough campaign has provided a “beautiful halo effect” over the community. He is pleased with the positive response to it.

Early on, Scarborough-raised musician The Weeknd donated $500,000 to SHN in support of COVID-19 relief efforts through sales of his popular line of XO face masks.

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“Out of every postcode within Scarborough, we knew all but one was a high-risk area for COVID so I know our hospitals were put under tremendous strain,” added Bailey.

He pointed out that donations are critical for upgrades, expansions and new programming within SHN.

“When we look at our share of fundraising dollars, we would say that we’re at the lower portions of those,” said Graham.

On its website, the Love, Scarborough campaign notes, “Scarborough is one of Canada’s most diverse communities and deserves the same innovative technology and updated facilities other Toronto hospitals offer.”

“We’re a catchment area of approximately 850,000 across three sites. The need for us really is about inpatient facilities, new operating rooms, we’re based on old systems of four people to a room and we think that with COVID, we’ve really exposed how those types of standards for individual rooms, washrooms and facilities really is a requirement of modern care,” explained Graham.

The SHN Foundation estimates its facilities receive less than one per cent of hospital donations in Toronto, even though it serves about 25 per cent of the city’s population.

“A lot of the rest of the city doesn’t know about us. They don’t know that we’re underfunded. They don’t know that we need to be supported,” said Fiona Kingsley Boyer, Development Officer, SHN Foundation.

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Kingsley Boyer was 44 years old and four months pregnant when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

“Centenary really helped to give me my life back,” she said.

It is now her mission to help give back, through her role with SHN Foundation.

“It’s really important for us to get the message out there to the rest of the city and let them know that, hey, we’re here, too! We’re doing amazing things in our hospitals and we need your support!” she said enthusiastically.

Back in the ICU, Betts is careful about sharing his thoughts and predictions for what could be coming this summer and into the fall when it comes to COVID-19.

“I think if COVID has taught me anything, it’s not to look too far ahead,” he said.

The focus now, noted Betts, is caring for COVID-19 patients who have experienced severe illness and continue to recover.

“They will have really long-lasting health effects and I think when I speak to my colleagues in other ICUs in the province, that’s who we continue to care for, the numbers of new patients are relatively low, but we have a huge burden of patients that are still trying to get over their illness even a year ago, still requiring ICU care,” he said.

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In the emergency room, Dr. Lisa Salamon continues to see COVID-19 patients come in for care and expects there could be more in July and August.

She said the last two years felt like “a bit of a sigh of relief” but this summer may be different.

“I think we have to be really cautious this summer, which unfortunately is different than the previous two summers … we keep hearing people say that we need to learn to live with it and I would like to rephrase that by, we need to learn to live with this responsibly,” she added.

Dr. Norman Chu, Chief and Medical Director of Emergency Medicine for SHN, said whatever is to come, his team is prepared.

“With opening up of the economy, lifting of the mask mandates, increased travel over the summer, we may experience an increase in numbers over the next few months .. life goes on, we have to move on and we’ll deal with it as it comes,” he said.

As for the Fall, Chu said when the weather gets cooler, people go inside and the risk of transmission of any type of infectious disease will go up so we’re ready for that. We’ve been through a lot over the past couple of years. So, yeah, we’re ready,” he said.

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