Generosity, gratitude guiding lights that led local walk-in clinic to transform into assessment centre
The last story I covered in-person without a mask was at Regional Council in early March 2020, as the government prepared to implement its pandemic response plan. I shook hands with someone on the way in, and sat maskless, one foot from then Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang for a candid conversation after the meeting. None of these things were out of the ordinary at the time.
A delegate at the meeting caught my ears and eyes, as Rashid Mohamed (affectionately known as “Rex”) told council of his walk-in clinics’ woes and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Rex was not at the meeting to complain, though. Instead, he was there with an offer.
“One of our clinics is well-situated with ample parking spots,” said Mohamed in an interview at the time. “It could be a testing centre, it could be a screening centre, however they want to run it. To me, that would be an offer where I’m saying, ‘Let’s have a centre here, we take the load off the emergency room, and maybe we can also support it to run after hours. Eventually the goal would be to run it 24 hours if we can staff it.”
It was not long before the Region would take him up on that, in what would become a difficult but quick process.
“I won’t sugar-coat it and say that the process was an easy one,” Mohamed told 570 NEWS in a recent interview. “We had a lot of ground to cover in making sure that we had the right procedures in place for the centre, now known as KW4 COVID Assessment Centre.”
Swabbing stations had to be set up, staff completely re-trained, and PPE put in place to protect those staff. A shortage of PPE would also not be a problem for long for Mohamed.
“As soon as the word got out that we had a PPE crisis, and we were running out of PPE, the community outreach was so overwhelming,” said Mohamed. “We were touched by the amount of people who heard our story and reached out with messages of hope, as well as sending PPE as best as they could.”
He also credited Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital with their incredible support, both in training and in supplying PPE.
The KW4 assessment clinic also pioneered free transportation for those who needed to be tested, at first renting out a limo service. That plan had to be quickly adjusted as demand shot up. They ended up purchasing other vehicles, including former police cruisers.
That free transportation is now offered across the Region, and they have even provided some trips to Guelph.
It’s a good thing that Mohamed offered up his clinic, as demand reached an incredible level at the end of the summer, as the government announced that any COVID-19 symptoms in school children should result in the family getting tested.
“At one point I had to show up with a couple of our team members to try and request people to go away,” Mohamed recalled. “We had about 300 or so people lined up outside the clinic in the parking lot, in hope if they were not able to get an appointment.”
That clinic alone received some 3,600 calls through the COVID dispatch centre during that time.
Another busy spike was around two weeks after Christmas, where staff pulled double shifts to test twice as many patrons. Mohamed noted that the spike has died back down to the normal level of tests, about 200 per day.
“Every single day, some people say we’re crazy, why do we do this,” he said. “If we’re crazy, then the firefighter is also crazy. He runs into the fire when everyone is running out.”
Running into the heart of the crisis was something that Mohamed knew he had to do, with family who helped fight the SARS epidemic 17 years ago.
“We knew kind of what we were getting into, and we said, ‘We can do it, let’s do it now. And if we all come together, we’re going to be able to conquer this virus.’ And that’s what inspired us.”
Mohamed noted that he would be remiss if not to mention those who helped him and his team, with Dr. Heather Dixon and Dr. Joseph Lee being the “backbone” of the operation.
“I want to say a huge thank you to all the people who have helped us in making this project so successful. When I say that all hands were on deck to make this project a ‘go,’ that would be an understatement. The team support and guidance I’ve witnessed has been overwhelmingly amazing. I think that, together, we will be able to curb the spread of this virus. And, in doing so, help to keep our community safer. I think seeing as Martin Luther King Day just passed, it would be ideal to end off with a quote by him, in which he has most famously stated, ‘Life’s most urgent and persistent question is: what are you doing for others?’ And I can proudly say my team, my family, and I aided the wonderful and amazing healthcare leaders of this Region, and received the most precious opportunity to help and give back to the community which we are most grateful for.”
A free transport service to get a COVID-19 test has expanded across Waterloo region to now include Cambridge.
A driver picks up a patient from their home, drives them to a test site, and then back home again. The vehicle is sanitized between trips. The service is free for anyone who needs it and wants a test.
KITCHENER — Community members continue to step up to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From a Cambridge doctor who helped her hospital prepare for the arrival of COVID-19 to a group of Waterloo researchers developing a needle-less vaccine, people are working hard to support one another this year.
CTV Kitchener is featuring work during the pandemic every Monday.
Read stories of people making sure we’re stronger together, even when six feet apart:
“Patients called the clinic requesting masks after mandatory regional bylaw
The owners of three walk-in clinics in Waterloo and Kitchener are distributing 25,000 disposable masks to people who need them.
Rex Mohammed says he and his wife, Meera, took action after receiving a number of requests from people who needed a face covering.
The couple has purchased masks from a supplier, and will hand out them out at their locations at Westmount Place Walk-In clinic on Westmount Road, which is also a COVID-19 assessment centre; the Waterloo Walk-In Clinic on University Avenue; and the K-W Walk-In at the Boardwalk in Kitchener.
“When the [region’s mandatory mask] rules came in effect, we noticed a lot of patients and a lot of the random public would call in and request if we had any masks,” said Mohammed.
“They were having difficulty going for groceries and they did not have any masks. They wanted to come to the clinic but they didn’t have masks. They want to go get their prescriptions, they don’t have masks.So I said, ‘We’ve got to do something.'”
Mohammed says one disposable mask will be available daily for people who really need it.
‘You need to act to make a difference’
The walk-in location at Westmount Road was one of the first COVID-19 assessment centres that opened in the region for testing, Mohammed says. He said they’re now testing between 100 and 200 people a day.
Staff have also provided transportation to people who need a drive to get a test. About 180 people have taken them up on the offer, he said.
This isn’t Mohammed’s first time witnessing a pandemic. When he was a university student during the SARS outbreak in Toronto he watched members of his family in the medical field testing and attending to patients who were ill.
“One thing I’ve learned from that first experience is if you sit on it you will never be able to make a difference,” said Mohammed.
“If you act on it right away. You possibly will be able to tackle it down.” ”
· CBC News ·
“Disposable mask available to anyone who can’t afford one now that they’re mandatory in Waterloo Region
WATERLOO REGION — Free face masks are being handed out by the owners of three local walk-in clinics, including a COVID-19 testing site.
They bought 25,000 disposable face masks that will be available starting Wednesday at the Waterloo Walk-In Clinic at 170 University Ave. W. in Waterloo and the K-W Walk-In Clinic at 100 The Boardwalk in Kitchener.
“Somebody had to do something,” said Rex Mohamed, who owns the clinics with his wife Meera Mohamed.
“You could feel the frustration,” Mohamed said. “Luckily we were able to source out a supplier.”
He is hoping their mask giveaway will encourage others to do the same as well to ensure everyone has access to a mask, in particular if they can’t afford to buy one.
“They’re very appreciative,” Mohamed said of those who have received a mask.
People are asked to only take one mask, due to the strain on personal protective equipment supplies during the pandemic. They’re available while supplies last during regular clinic hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., but not at the testing clinic because that site sees patients by appointment only.
The couple have also been providing free transportation to the testing centre for anyone who needs it.
“Whatever we can do,” Mohamed said.”
“KITCHENER — A COVID-19 assessment and testing centre in Waterloo is offering a free service to make it easier for residents with transportation issues to get tested.
An old ambulance has become a free ride for those like Lina Roult, who was tested at the KW4 Community Assessment Centre on Thursday.
“I’m so happy that this service exists because I don’t have a car,” she says.
In order to help prevent the spread of the virus on public transit, they initially rented a private limo service for patients who needed tests but had no way to get there.
Then he decided to purchase vehicles more appropriate to the task.
“These are ex-ambulances. We’ve bought two of those and we are transporting patients at no cost,” Mohamed explains.
Nearly 60 people have been transported to and from the clinic so far.
“My understanding is, it’s been received extremely positively,” says Dr. Joseph Lee.
Patients sit in the back of the ambulances and are provided masks.
The vehicles are sanitized between each patient, and drivers are required to wear personal protective equipment.
Mohamed’s wife had also stepped in as a driver up until Thursday.
“As a matter of fact, my wife is in the hospital right now. She was picked up by ambulance in the morning with chest pains and my daughter is showing some signs,” he says.
“But it’s not going to stop us. We’ll continue serving.”
For patients like Roult, the help is appreciated.
“It was a big relief because otherwise I’d have to have thought about walking up here, which is quite a long ways,” she says.
Last weekend, testing opened up to the general public—before then, it was prioritized for high-risk groups, like health-care workers or long-term care residents.
Certain locations are still by doctor referral only, while others, like ones at the hospitals in Kitchener, are working on self-referral options.”
Nicole Lampa CTV News Kitchener Videographer
“WATERLOO — Those running the COVID-19 assessment and testing centre in Waterloo are offering a service that is making a big difference.
Mohamed teamed up with an area doctor to create the assessment centre, and originally rented a private limo service, but had no way to get there himself.
The K-W 4 Community Assessment Centre has since purchased vehicles to transport people to be tested.
The method is done in order to prevent the spread of the virus on public transit. Nearly 60 people have been transported to and from the clinic so far.
The vehicles are sanitized after each patient and drivers are required to wear PPE.
Mohammed’s wife had stepped in as a driver until Thursday.
“My wife is in the hospital right now,” he said. “She was picked up by an ambulance this morning with chest pains, and my daughter is showing some signs.”
“It’s not going to stop us. We’ll continue servicing whatever it takes.”
Linda Roult has tested for COVID-19 and says the ride is greatly appreciated.
“It was a big relief because otherwise I would have to walk here, which is quite a long ways,” she said. “Or I would have had not had a test, which is not good.”
The Waterloo assessment centre on Westmount Road is open for general population testing, but is still by referral only.”
Nicole Lampa CTV News Kitchener Videographer
“KITCHENER — The Region of Waterloo announced Monday that it is opening two new COVID-19 assessment clinics.
One has been set up at the Westmount Walk-In Clinic, at 50 Westmount Road North in Waterloo.
Public Health says the site will serve the communities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich.
The second location is at Cambridge Memorial Hospital at 700 Coronation Boulevard, and will accept patients from Cambridge and North Dumfries.
However Public Health is warning that these sites are not testing centres and walk-ins are not welcome.
Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the acting Medical Officer of Health for the region, says people should only go the assessment centres if they get the go-ahead from their family doctor or healthcare provider.
She says residents should first visit the province’s online self-assessment tool to determine whether they should seek a clinical assessment.
They can then set up a phone or online appointment with their family doctor or walk-in clinic healthcare provider.
If that doctor determines that an in-person assessment is required, they will refer the patient to one of the region’s new assessment centres.
Dr. Wang says this system has been set up for those with moderate symptoms and anyone with severe symptoms should go to their local hospital.”
Jennifer K. Baker CTV News Kitchener Writer-Reporter
“The goal is to open community assessment centres as the Region implements its Pandemic Response Plan
COVID-19 was finally declared a pandemic on Wednesday as cases of the new coronavirus continue to increase globally.
That means Waterloo Region is implementing their Pandemic Response Plan from 2008, something councillors describe as similar to the Regional Emergency Response Plan.
The most significant part of that plan involves “community assessment centres,” the need of which is greater than first appears.
The only place we can assess people for COVID-19 is in our hospitals at the moment, according to Dr. Hsui-Li Wang: Acting Medical Officer of Health for Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
“When this virus started to make an appearance, the Ontario Ministry of Health decided to put in very high levels of precautions, in order to protect health care workers and other patients. Because of that, really, currently, the only place that’s able to assess and test clients under such stringent conditions are hospital environments,” explained Wang in an interview. “The government recognizes, with the increasing number of cases, that’s not a sustainable solution. We’re currently in discussions with them to allow us to help move some of the testing into a community location. They are supportive of that.”
People currently need an appointment to get screened at a hospital according to Cheryl Evans, manager of Communications and Engagement for Grand River Hospital.
“This is not a walk in clinic,” said Evans in a statement. “We have worked with Public Health to develop a temporary solution to isolate screening and testing for COVID-19 to one area of the hospital as much as possible. Patients should first be screened and determined to need an appointment for testing by the emergency department, by public health, or through their family physician in consultation with public health. We are working with our health system partners, public health and St Mary’s General Hospital to plan for a community clinic. No timeline for this yet but we should know more by Friday.
Wang said it made sense in the earlier days of the virus to take high precautions and screen in hospital, but now that the virus is more understood, it’s an unnecessary strain on the hospital.
“We have a better understanding of how it spreads,” said Wang. “We think, going forward, it makes a lot of sense to be able to assess and test these people in a community setting. We’re working right now with the hospitals and our primary care partners to try to identify locations in the community where we can assess people. These are the people who come back from travel, they’re the most at risk, and develop symptoms, but aren’t well enough to be assessed in the hospital environment.”
As if by fate, one of those locations presented itself at the meeting.
Rashid Mohamed, also known as “Rex,” is the owner and operator of Waterloo Walk-in Clinic, Westmount Medical Centre and KW Walk-in Clinic.
He offered to completely shut down one of his clinics to walk-in services to convert the space to community assessment.
“One of our clinics is well-situated with ample parking spots,” said Mohamed in an interview. “It could be a testing centre, it could be a screening centre, however they want to run it. To me, that would be an offer where I’m saying, ‘Let’s have a centre here, we take the load off the emergency room, and maybe we can also support it to run after hours. Eventually the goal would be to run it 24 hours if we can staff it.”
Dr. Wang might just take Mohamed up on his offer.
“Absolutely, we’re open to any and all ideas,” said Wang. “We have had family physicians start to step up and offer ideas and we’re very willing to hear from them, and to work with them. Those clinics will need physician resources, nursing resources, and if we can have our primary care physicians in the community pitch in and help us find a solution, that would be great.”
The council meeting wasn’t an entire picture of optimism, however.
Mohamed originally was a delegate at the meeting to tell council how strapped his clinics are for equipments such as facemasks.
Doctor Terry Polevoy also took to the podium, painting a similar grim picture.
In an interview, Mohamed told of his frustrating phone conversations with suppliers, saying that he was first told to “wait until you’re within 10 days of losing supplies,” then seven days, and finally being told that masks are for high priority areas only.
This all came despite his clinic burning through twice as many masks as usual.
“I don’t know how they’re describing ‘high priority areas’ versus low priority. We’re three cities here. We see patients from anywhere and everywhere. Somebody who’s sitting behind a desk is giving me the logic, telling me to ‘direct the patients to make a phone call. Direct the patients to public health.’ How do I do that? Do I stand outside my door? At all three clinics with the patients outside? This is a walk-in clinic. The patients who are sick, they don’t look up on Google, they don’t look up the news channel, they go to a doctor’s office [the clinic]. People don’t even stop at the pharmacy, they want to come here to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
Dr. Wang said the Ministry of Health is working on the equipment shortage.
If the Region does take Mohamed up on his offer, it would take a bit of time to verify that all the resources are in place.
“It’s probably not going to take weeks, more a matter of several days to start up these community assessments,” said Dr. Wang. “We have to submit proposals to Ontario Health, and they obviously are going to take a look at this as quickly as they can.”
One of the main messages that public health is trying to get out to the public: call first. That will help you to stay informed and get early instructions, and reduce the strain on our healthcare system.
You can also find helpful, easy-to-read resources on the Public Health Website.
Waterloo Region’s 24-Hour Phone Line, and Public Health: 519-575-4400.”
By: Ben Eppel
“A new walk-in clinic in Waterloo will help students, seniors and everyone in between avoid the emergency room.
“We’re just so excited about what’s happening here today, it’s something every community dreams about, having more medical facilities and better medical facilities,” said Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky at the clinic’s opening last Friday.
Westmount Place Walk-In Clinic, at 50 Westmount Rd., has good timing. It was ready for business a week and a half after the auditor general’s report was released, which described emergency rooms as overcrowded and wait times as too long. Grand River Hospital also recently announced it would be taking the “rare” step of asking for donations in order to hire another emergency room resident.
“We know we are in a crisis from an emergency room perspective if our hospital is fundraising for an emergency room resident,” said Waterloo NDP MPP Catherine Fife at the opening.
“Having urgent care centres like this, which are community based, is an important asset we need to have in more communities across the province.”
Waterloo Region and Woolwich Township have about 14,000 residents without family physicians, said Ian McLean, president of the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. While that may seem like a lot, 14 years ago more than 44,000 residents were without family physicians.
“The shortage of doctors was becoming a problem for business leaders looking to recruit and retain talent in the tech sector and also across other industries like accounting, law, banking and insurance,” said McLean. “People weren’t interested in coming to Waterloo if they couldn’t get primary care.”
A family physician is the entry point into the health care system. If there’s a shortage of those, more people have to resort to the emergency room to treat illnesses and get prescriptions or referrals to specialists.
“More and more physicians are nearing retirement age,” said McLean. “We have to recruit seven or eight doctors ever year just to tread water.”
And the competition is stiff.
“What we know is when doctors graduate they can go wherever they like. They’re in demand across the region, the province, the country and frankly North America,” McLean said. “We’re competing against everybody.”
Walk-in clinics are a kind of a stopgap measure.
“In the tri-city there are deficiencies in family doctor practices,” said Rex Mohamed, founder of the new clinic. “Walk-ins bridge that gap and take a load off of emergency rooms.”
From running several other walk-in clinics in the Waterloo region, he expects 50 to 80 people will visit the Westmount clinic every day. That’s 50 to 80 people who’ll avoid the emergency room and free up much-needed space.
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk reported at the three hospitals she visited, patients were placed on “uncomfortable stretchers or gurneys in hallways and other high-traffic areas that were never designed for patient care.”
Nine out of every 10 patients in the emergency room went home after being treated. The majority were released between three and six and a half hours.
But for the one out of every 10 patients who needed to be admitted to the long-term or intensive care units for further treatment, wait times in the emergency room (or in hallways) could be as long as 28 hours.
Dr. Terry Polevoy and Dr. Richard Irvine are among the physicians who’ll be working at the Westmount clinic. Both have long careers in medicine and have watched the healthcare system change.
“It’s almost impossible for new people to Waterloo Region to find new physicians,” Polevoy said. “Luckily for them, they’ll find services here.” ”
Samantha Beattie is a reporter with the Toronto Star.