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Former staffers come out of retirement to help COVID-19 battle at OSMH

'I looked at it like it was a professional responsibility I had,' said respiratory therapist that retired in 2018; Nine people, in various capacities, have returned to OSMH
keith mercer april 2020
Keith Mercer, a respiratory therapist who retired in August of 2018, has agreed to return to the front line at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital to help in the battle against COVID-19. Contributed photo

Concerned about a surge of patients due to the scourge of COVID-19, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) knew it was important to have all hands on deck in the local battle against a global pandemic.

Like many hospitals, OSMH cancelled elective surgeries, optional programs were put on hold, visitors and volunteers were prohibited and senior administrators looked at innovative ways to increase capacity.

One of the strategies was to reach out to recently retired staffers to see if they might be willing to return to work.

Keith Mercer - and several others - answered the call.

“I looked at it like it was a professional responsibility I had,” said Mercer. “I have the knowledge and skills and experience and I’m willing to help out.”

Mercer, a long-time respiratory therapist (RT), retired in the summer of 2018.

But like everyone else, he started to hear echoes of concerns about the coronavirus in the last few months.

He was cross-country skiing with some doctor friends late this winter when he began to get a sense of how serious the virus might be.

Knowing his RT licence was coming up for renewal in March, he decided to take the necessary steps to become fully accredited again. After retirement, while he continued to be a “member in good standing” he had allowed his licence to become inactive.

He said it was an easy decision to agree to come back.

“I worked through SARS and H1N1, so I am used to donning the personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s necessary - I’m comfortable doing that,” said Mercer. “I’m used to taking it on and off although there’s an even higher level of diligence needed now.”

RTs help out with high-risk baby deliveries, assess people with breathing problems, are members of cardiac arrest teams and, perhaps most importantly in the COVID-19 scenario, ventilate a patient experiencing shortness of breath.

“We’re the only ones in the hospital that can run the ventilators,” said Mercer, while adding nurses in ICU can assist with the devices that help patients breathe.

Mercer admitted some people are surprised he would willingly leave the safety of his home and agree to work in such a potentially risky environment.

“This is what health-care workers do,” he said. “I’m used to seeing patients that are quite sick. If I can help, it seems like the right thing to do.”

Mercer is one of two RTs coming out of retirement to help at OSMH. Four registered nurses, one registered practical nurse and two others have also decided to temporarily spurn retirement to lend a hand.

Mercer said he will work eight-hour shifts as needed and will be added to the rotation, starting May 4. The ‘temporary/casual’ job has an end date of July 31.

“The ‘regular’ RTs are working 12-hours shifts and the PPE becomes very time-consuming … so any relief we can provide to them would be welcome,” said Mercer.

And while he’s eager to help, he said the community - supported by the health-care community - has done “such a great job,” that it’s possible he won’t be needed.

To date, there have been 237 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s catchment area.

In Orillia, there have been 12 confirmed cases and two deaths. However, there were just two new confirmed cases in Orillia between April 8 and April 24.

There have been five confirmed cases in Oro-Medonte - including one death. Two of those patients remain hospitalized.

There have been no cases in Severn Township to date and just three in Ramara of which none are in hospital.

“The cases they are seeing right now are really quite light,” said Mercer. “There is a possibility I won’t be needed. I’m quite pleased to see that.”


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Dave Dawson

About the Author: Dave Dawson

Dave Dawson is community editor of
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