By Jenn Watt
Published June 30 2020
Since restrictions on who can be tested for COVID-19 have been lifted demand has swelled at the assessment centre in Haliburton which is averaging 25 to 35 people per day said Dr. Norm Bottum of the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team.
A requirement that those visiting long-term care receive a negative swab before going to see their loved ones may also be leading to the increased numbers.
“When we started we were booking one patient every half an hour and for a while there we were actually having trouble filling the day” Dr. Bottum said “but it was all around people who had symptoms and now that they’ve offered asymptomatic testing [things are much busier].”
Testing is available by appointment only and in order to meet the need paramedics and hospital staff have joined the effort. Test results take about three days to come back.
Calling patients with test results can take more time than doing the swabs themselves particularly for patients who came in because they have symptoms and need additional follow-up on their condition.
However most people coming to the centre now are asymptomatic. Dr. Bottum estimated between 85 and 90 per cent of those who come in do not have symptoms.
“And [many of them] want to get in to see their loved ones in long-term care – that’s huge” he said.
Restrictions on visiting long-term care were loosened by the provincial government on June 18 provided the home did not have an outbreak. Dr. Bottum said his understanding was that each long-term care facility could make its own decisions around how to protect residents and staff but that they are all observing strict protocols.
Those intending to visit a long-term care facility must test negative for COVID-19 in the two weeks prior to the visit and must continue to take precautions such as mask-wearing hand washing and maintaining a safe physical distance from others.
In addition to the growing demand at the assessment centre pressure on other aspects of the medical system are creating slower than usual services for patients.
Dr. Bottum said those who have non-emergency medical issues are encouraged to call their doctor rather than coming to the ER since COVID-19 screening and cleaning protocols are increasing wait times at the hospitals.
Since the walk-in clinic has also been cancelled this summer it’s important that those who do not have an emergency situation contact their health-care provider using telemedicine or videoconferencing if they can.
“We don’t know what the summer’s going to hold. We don’t have [classes at Haliburton School of Art + Design] we don’t have the summer camps the lodges the volume is probably going to be less this summer but summer’s still typically a busier time” he said.
Doctor-patient visits through telemedicine or videoconferencing are being supported by the provincial government so Dr. Bottum said most people should expect that their doctors or other primary care providers would consult with them that way.
Minor issues such as requesting a prescription refill can easily be arranged with your doctor over the phone or by contacting the pharmacy for assistance.
In a letter to the community issued June 19 Haliburton Highlands Health Services CEO Carolyn Plummer said that changes made to prepare HHHS for the COVID-19 threat were still in place including the separation of the hospital and long-term care sites reducing entry points to the facilities and screening all those who come in.
Both Haliburton and Minden emergency departments continue to take those needing emergency and urgent care however those who have COVID-19 symptoms should go to the Haliburton emergency department or expect to be redirected there.
To book an appointment at the COVID-19 assessment centre you can call 705-457-1212 (press 6) during regular business hours. For information on supports in the community including mental health supports go to haliburtoncares.ca or call the Community Support Services response team at 705-457-2941 or text 705-457-0016 Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.