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Jun. 6, 2020 | Saturday
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COVID-19: NOTL nurses on the front line: Erin Jarvis
Erin Jarvis, nurse practitioner for Niagara North's NOTL site. (Richard Harley)

This story is the first in a series, profiling all three of Niagara-on-the-Lake's nurse practitioners. This week's profile, Erin Jarvis, is the sole nurse practitioner at Niagara North Family Health Team's NOTL site.

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Erin Jarvis is one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s front-line workers.

The 36-year-old is the sole nurse practitioner at Niagara North Family Health Team’s NOTL site and has been there for six years.

For her, like everyone else in the health care industry, life has changed in the new world of COVID-19. Every day she gears up in full personal protective equipment — goggles, mask, gown — to help join Niagara-on-the-Lake’s fight against the virus.

The Lake Report talked with Jarvis about how things have changed in NOTL due to the global pandemic, how patients are responding to new procedures, and how she’s been holding up.

She says her average day has become “quite a bit different” in the COVID-era, with not only the volume of patients, but the clinical procedures involved in assessing them.

“We’re doing essentially all phone and video conferencing, with the permission of the patient,” she says.

Some patients still come into the office if it’s necessary, she says, but they’re trying to do as much as possible at a safe distance.

“It’s sort of evolved over the last few weeks, certainly as they gather more data and evidence, it’s changed our clinical practice,” she says.

“So if we see anyone in office, regardless of the concern, whether or not we have concern about
COVID-19, we wear full personal protective equipment, so goggles, mask, gown, gloves, and then we ask the patient to also wear a mask during the encounter and they sanitize their hands when they enter and when they leave the building, so that’s quite different as well.”

Jarvis says there are certain limitations when not assessing people in person, but that even seeing people on video can be helpful in diagnosing patients.

“We’re quite fortunate to have video conferencing. We have a number of modules that meet the personal health information protection act requirements,” she says.

“We’re sort of depending on them to a certain degree to kind of gauge the severity of the illness and sort of necessitate the conversation between you and them, whether or not they need to come into the office or not.”

“We’re trying to limit lab tests, imaging referrals to that that’s emergent,” she says. “Just to limit their contact with providers, other people. Not that these things aren’t important, but we’re having to kind of gauge what’s emergent, what needs to be addressed now, what can we kind of defer until we’re sort of back to more normal functioning. So that’s challenging”

It’s not easy to tell people something needs to be put on hold, she says.

“We can still get things done, it just warrants a more in-depth discussion about timelines, as far as getting it done.”

She says patients have been “very understanding.”

“They’re trying to do the best they can, we’re trying to do the best that we can, and they’re very grateful. They’re grateful to know that there is someone here if they have a question, not that they necessarily need to come in, but that they know that someone is there if an issue does crop up. And we just kind of work through it together.”

Right now “everyone is concerned” about COVID-19.

“We’re concerned, people in the community are concerned. I mean it seems like everyone is being very diligent, though, in following the social distancing rules. Local businesses have been quite good — I mean the pharmacies are delivering, doing curb-side pickups to minimize interactions, so I think people feel some sense of reassurance in doing that,” she says.

As far as advice she’s giving, she says she’s promoting the recommendations made by public health.

“Regardless of whether you’re symptomatic or not to stay at home as much as possible, to only go out for the necessities” as infrequently as possible. “If you do need to go out, maintain your six-foot social distance between people. Hand washing, don’t touch your face.”

Like anyone, Jarvis has to get groceries, too. 

“I’m confident that the measures we’re taking will protect me. I mean you can’t eliminate exposures completely, I still have to go to the grocery store and such, but I’m confident that adhering to all of these rules that I’m protected,” she says.

“I think to have a heightened awareness is a good thing, not to the point of feeling overly stressed or anxious.”

“Worrying about it excessively doesn’t change things.”

If we all take these steps and follow the rules that have been outlined for us, we should feel comfortable, she says. That’s not to say people shouldn’t be aware, but taking the measures is all we can do, she says. But “if you’re symptomatic, then we need to address that.”

The most heartbreaking thing she’s seen through the pandemic so far hasn’t been related to Niagara-on-the-Lake or her personal experience, but rather what’s happening in other countries like the United States.

“To see what’s going on in New York City, which is eight hours away from us here, I think it’s awful. I mean, a developed country like that, to have them saying that they’re going to be stopping the social distancing rules and going back to normal functioning because of concerns about the economy, I find upsetting. Definitely.”

The most heartwarming thing, she said, is that in Niagara-on-the-Lake, people have really looked out for one another.

“I really feel in general outside of the pandemic situation that people really look out for one another in this community, and I mean that has just been enhanced since this happened,” she says.

NOTL is predominately an older community, “so in the interest of them being able to maintain social distancing, neighbours, acquaintances, everybody just helps everybody else out, looks out for each other.”

“I’ve always noticed that about Niagara-on-the-Lake, but definitely more so now,” she said.

Right now COVID-19 screening is a part of just about every patient encounter, she says, whether it’s screening or education about the virus.

“I guess you can assume that people are aware. It dominates the newspapers, news channels, radio. But if it’s not brought up by a patient, we generally as providers would, just given what’s going on,” she says.

If there are any talks about the patient coming into the office, they ask about symptoms of COVID-19 first.

In a lot of ways, Jarvis is just like a doctor. She can make diagnosis, she can order and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medicine.

She’s humble when asked about what she does, saying it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

When she’s not busy making sure the people of NOTL are safe and healthy, she said she loves cycling, hiking and being outside.

Like all of us, she’s been isolated at home when she’s not at work. She lives on her own, which is a “bit of a challenge,” she says.

“You know what, though, with technology we’re quite fortunate right now. Basically everyone has access to technology, so that helps.”

She says she’s been doing lots of video chats.

“I think it makes you stop and think about the importance of social contacts. It’s easy to lose touch with people. I think now, even for myself, I stop and think, ‘I should check in with someone today,’ ” she says.

As far as staying sane at home during all of this, she says a friend dropped off a Nintendo console for her.

“I beat Dr. Mario like two days into this on original Nintendo. So that kind of sucked, because now what am I going to do?” she jokes.

Overall, Jarvis is staying positive, is in good spirits and is doing what it takes to keep things rolling.

“Life has to go on, albeit differently than it was two months ago. But you have to kind of carry on in spite of it.”

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