I was seconded to Corporate Health, Safety and Wellness in November 2019 to harmonize workplace violence resources across the network. When the pandemic hit, everyone around me started working on our COVID-19 response and I wanted to contribute. After a couple weeks of asking my director how I could help, I walked into her office and said, “Everyone on the team is working so hard, let me know what you need.” She said OK, we need a COVID-19 Call Centre and we need it setup in the next 48 hours.
That conversation took place on a Thursday and by Saturday, we were marking our first official day at our COVID-19 Call Centre. The collective response from everyone involved, from IT to Environmental Services, Maintenance to Redevelopment, was fantastic. Teams stepped up to help get it done.
They’ve come from all different backgrounds, uprooted from their home base and doing completely new work, yet they’ve always maintained such a wonderful team dynamic. I’m inspired by them daily.
The call centre was established to support staff, physicians and learners who needed to report a COVID-19-related absence or illness to Corporate Health. A few weeks later, we realized the need for a second team to lead contact tracing and support staff who may have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19. That’s how the Contact Tracing Team came about.
More than 100 staff from across the network have come through to support either team since we launched last spring. They’ve come from all different backgrounds, uprooted from their home base and doing completely new work, yet they’ve always maintained such a wonderful team dynamic. I’m inspired by them daily.
Getting to build two teams from the ground up has been the silver lining of this pandemic. I’ve been able to meet and work with so many staff from across the network and create new policies and guidelines to handle entirely new situations. But it’s taken a lot of my time and that’s been really tough on my family, particularly on my daughter, who just turned three.
In the early days of the pandemic, I was working very long hours, seven days a week. I could see the initial impact on my daughter through her pretend play. It was all about mama working. Pretty quickly though, she started to get upset when she’d see my work phone. I remember one time she grabbed it and threw it, yelling “No mama!” It emphasized the impact that this pandemic was having on her and our quality time.
The rest of my family lives on the east coast, which has been fairly lucky in terms of the impact of COVID-19. But my partner’s family lives in Brazil, so that’s been concerning. We stay in touch via WhatsApp but it’s hard. Our daughter’s at such a fun age right now, growing, changing, exploring the world and learning new things, so it feels like our families are missing out on a lot.
I often remind myself that the staff on our COVID-19 Call Centre and Contact Tracing teams are missing out on a lot too. They’re each going through their own pandemic experiences, having been uprooted professionally, worrying about their families and dealing with the stress and unknowns of this virus. That’s where I have such respect and admiration for them. Their adaptability and flexibility, how they’ve moved with the changes while remaining so compassionate and kind, it’s pretty awesome. I feel very lucky to work with them.
Sonya Booker is the Manager of Abilities and Health at Unity Health Toronto. At the time of this interview, she was working as the Manager of the COVID-19 Call Centre and Contact Tracing teams at Unity Health Toronto.
As told to Anna Wassermann. Photos by Yuri Markarov. This interview has been edited and condensed.