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Behind the scenes at Kingston’s COVID-19 assessment centre

On Saturday, Sep. 26, 2020, Kingston’s Community COVID-19 Assessment Centre (AC) opened at its new location at the Beechgrove Complex, near King St. and Portsmouth Ave. The facility is more dynamic than the former Leon’s Centre and Memorial Centre locations, with more indoor waiting space, and separate lines for symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. A drive-through testing option is also being offered, this weekend only.

Like Ontarians across the province, Kingston residents are concerned about long lines for COVID-19 tests. Wait times at the AC have previously been reported ranging from four to eight hours, over the past two weeks. The first day at Beechgrove appears to be progressing more quickly, with many people reporting shorter waits and a positive, smooth experience using the drive-through.

Both the Community AC and the Queen’s University satellite testing location are operated by Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), the local hospital network. Dr. David Pichora, President of KHSC, said staff shortages have limited flexibility on operating hours when he spoke at the opening of the Queen’s location on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020.

“Finding the people who have the skills to do this stuff and getting them trained up is not an overnight event,” Pichora said.

Since then, the Kingstonist has reached out to KHSC for further details on how the assessment centres are staffed, and what recruiting and onboarding look like.

Who is working at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre

Kristen Lipscombe, Strategic Communications Advisor for KHSC said that trained registered nurses (RNs), registered practical nurses (RPNs) and paramedics are qualified to perform the nasopharyngeal swab used to test for COVID-19.

All of these health care professionals must be trained and verified by a physician in order to perform COVD-19 testing at any assessment centre, she said. This directive applies to both the Beechgrove and Queen’s campus testing locations.

“None of these health care professionals can perform COVID-19 testing without approval from a physician,” Lipscombe explained. “All staff also require specific training on infection control, patient flow through the assessment centres, and assessing various individual scenarios.”

Lipscombe said KHSC typically has six or seven RPNs, a lead RN and two or three paramedics on staff to perform testing for an eight-hour shift at the Community AC.

KHSC also has staff at the centre for patient registration, along with runners, screeners and a personal protective equipment (PPE) support person at all times.

“During surges in line-up numbers, we may call on additional casual RNs and paramedics to assist,” she said. “We work together with various agencies across our primary care network to plan and align shifts that will allow for an increase in employee hours.”

‘We are constantly making adjustments’

Lipscombe said all staff members receive breaks and lunch as per union protocol. “Our AC generally [offers testing] seven hours daily because it requires additional work before it opens and after it closes to keep everything running smoothly,” she said. The Community AC at the Beechgrove Complex is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Lipscombe said the number of people employed at the assessment centres is always in flux, as KHSC has both part-time and casual staff members assisting on site. “We are constantly make adjustments,” she said. “There are currently about 10 casual RN positions and one permanent RN lead at the Community AC.”

Lipscombe said the biggest bottleneck in daily operations at the Community AC has been with registration. “We are constantly evaluating and improving to streamline processes,” she noted.

The Queen’s University assessment centre is open by appointment only from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday. Lipscombe said it currently has three to four RNS or RPNS during any given four-hour afternoon or evening shift.

“We also have an RN lead on site at Queen’s at all times,” she said. “Staff numbers may change as our community needs change. Registration at Queen’s is managed by Queen’s Student Wellness Services.”

Lipscombe said KHSC is currently recruiting RPNs for the community AC and casual lead RNs, with some hiring in progress. “We continue to work hard every day to serve the public at both assessment centres,” she said.

Other factors contributing to lines

Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore noted during Public Health board meeting this week that long line ups for COVID-19 tests are not unique to our area. Rather, he said they were consistent with trends observed across the province.

The Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health board passed a motion this week to write a letter to the province expressing support for new, faster testing methods, and to reduce wait times at assessment centres.

On Thursday, Sep. 24, the provincial government announced updated guidelines for COVID-19 testing, in an attempt to manage wait times in part by reducing the number of people eligible.

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Samantha Butler-Hassan

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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