Unsung Heroes

The Nurses of Windsor and Essex County

Story by Michael Seguin

This year, the annual Lois A. Fairley Nurse of the Year Award was a little different. Instead of recognizing a single nurse, the Fairley family decided to honour the efforts of every single nurse in Windsor and Essex County.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time to celebrate the hard work, tireless dedication and quiet strength of our community’s unsung heroes.
Andrea Lazar and Melissa Swetech are Clinical Practice Managers at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. As with many nurses, their passion for healing began at an early age.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be a nurse,” Andrea states. “I always knew I was going to be a nurse.”

“I actually went into nursing right from high school,” Melissa recalls. “I wanted to help others. So for me, it was natural to get into this profession. It is a privilege to impact the lives of others every day.”

Denise Deimling is a Registered ICU Nurse at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Ouellette Campus.

Denise Deimling is a Registered ICU Nurse at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Ouellette Campus.
“I spent about 26 years working in the Intensive Care Unit at the Ouellette Campus,” Denise reports. “I had a couple years working in the Cardiac Catherization Lab as well. Then, about two years ago, I moved down to the Endoscopy Unit.”

James Daabous is Registered Nurse at the Intensive Care Unit in Windsor Regional Hospital’s Metropolitan Campus. He also plays a hand in guiding the next generation, teaching Clinical Nursing students at the University of Windsor.

“I have a genuine need to help people,” James explains. “Dealing with medicine has always been a passion of mine.”

When COVID-19 struck our community these nurses, like countless others, found themselves shuffled around—redeployed to a place where their talents could be used to their maximum benefit.

Denise was reassigned back to the ICU, where she had the most experience. After months of assisting with the Electronic Charting System Project, Melissa reassumed a clinical practice role.

Meanwhile, Andrea got to work preparing orientation materials for all new and redeployed staff.

“We’ve put over a 100 people through orientation in two months,” Andrea states.

The first couple weeks of the pandemic were anxious ones for these healthcare workers.

“Things were constantly changing,” Melissa explains.

Andrea Lazar, a Clinical Practice Manager at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.

“Minute-by-minute, we were getting new updates,” Andrea states. “We were trying to keep everyone up to date, including ourselves. It was very fast-paced. We were learning on our feet. We had to figure out a way to standardize the information.”

Regardless of this baptism by fire, the nurses banded together to confront this external threat head-on.

“Despite having their own families at home to worry about, everyone still showed up to care for others, every single day,” Andrea reports. “That’s just what nurses do. Nurses truly are selfless.”

As well, some nurses, like Denise, were deeply impressed by how quickly the hospital management rose to the occasion during these trying times.

“It was impressive to see how much care they had taken to ensure the safety of the staff and the patients,” Denise states. “They constructed anterooms with filters in the ICU to make as many negative pressure rooms as they could. They have so many excellent protocols and procedures in place to ensure everyone’s safety. I actually felt very safe going back to my old stomping grounds.”

“As a city, we got on top of this virus rather quickly,” James reports. “We were very proactive.”

“Our staff definitely feels safe and supported,” Andrea explains. “We implemented proactive measures right from the beginning. We have the proper Personal Protective Equipment.”

However, despite the influx of new recruits, the stockpile of supplies and the well-oiled machinery of hospital infrastructure, our community’s unsung heroes still face significant risk going in to work every day. In addition to longer hours, some nurses have even volunteered their limited time and energy to assist with other initiatives, such as Essex Windsor EMS’s COVID Strike Teams.

Melissa Swetech, a Clinical Practice Manager at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.

“Andrea and I, along with a few other Clinical Practice Managers, voluntarily went into the community along with EMS and other healthcare organizations,” Melissa explains. “We went into long-term care homes and retirement homes and even helped vulnerable populations, like the homeless. Our mission on the Strike Team was to perform blitz surveillance testing for COVID-19. For the places that were already in outbreak, this testing allowed them to better control the situation.”

Andrea and Melissa also found the time to put together a five-hour training program for Community Living Windsor, teaching their workers basic nursing skills.

“We’ve been supporting the community as best we can,” Melissa states. “And they’ve been supporting us, too. We’ve had multiple drive-bys where people have shown their support. People have generously and graciously donated so many items to the hospital. Honestly, it’s been unbelievable.”

“You could walk down any street and point out 10 places that have donated something to the hospital,” James explains. “Everyone is doing their part.”

“The community has been so wonderful to us,” Denise states. “And we’re so appreciative of everything they do for us. The food that they send us. The good wishes. It’s been phenomenal, really. And we’re so thankful for it. And there’s lots of people in the community who are really true heroes, like the people working in the grocery stores. Our community has stepped up greatly.”

Fundamentally, Andrea and Melissa credit the strength of their colleagues for helping them weather the storm.

James Daabous, Registered Nurse, Intensive Care Windsor Regional Hospital Metropolitan Campus.

“You have to work together,” Denise states. “You have to help each other.”

“You don’t abandon your team,” Andrea stresses. “Nurses stick together. At all times.”

“Your colleagues become your second family,” James explains. “We lean on each other for support.”

In addition, May 11th to May 17th was the Canadian Nurses Association’s National Nursing Week—an annual celebration of the nursing profession that coincides with Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

“It’s a little different this year,” Denise states. “This year, it incorporates all the staff that have been working so hard during this pandemic.”

And the accolades did not conclude there. On May 15th, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare conducted their annual nursing awards ceremony. There, Andrea won the Lori Dupont bursary.

While the pandemic continues to stretch on, and the future remains, as always, uncertain, nurses will continue to be there to combat the crisis.

“I want to thank my fellow nurses,” Melissa states. “Not just for what they’re doing during COVID, but what they do every single day.”

“When my daughter went into nursing, I told her that it’s important to love what you do,” Denise explains. “Everyday. We’ve banded together, as we always do. We’re a special breed, that way. Every department is a little family. And it’s awesome to have two families. You care about each other. You develop a great rapport. You’re there for each other.”

“It doesn’t matter what comes our way,” Melissa reports. “We’re ready. And we’re here to help.”

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