Inside the JGH: How teamwork drives the success of Quebec’s busiest Emergency Department

Pictured from left to right: Jonathan Harroche (JGH Emergency Department Assistant Head Nurse), Kayla Feola (JGH Emergency Department Nurse) and Victor Uscatescu (JGH Emergency Department Nursing Education Consultant)
Pictured from left to right: Jonathan Harroche (JGH Emergency Department Assistant Head Nurse), Kayla Feola (JGH Emergency Department Nurse) and Victor Uscatescu (JGH Emergency Department Nursing Education Consultant)

From fractures to flu, from the new coronavirus to heart attacks, it’s family-like strength that allows the busiest Emergency Department in Quebec, and third-busiest in Canada, to thrive in the face of demanding conditions.

“Our team excels at rising to meet the call when our patients need us the most,” says Dr. Marc Afilalo, Chief of the Jewish General Hospital Emergency Department. “Whether it is the coronavirus, days with over 300 patients to care for, our ED team never loses sight of priorities: to be strong and put the patients at the heart of everything they do, as well as supporting one another. This is the type of commitment that makes them the best at what they do.”

“Our strongest asset is our multidisciplinary teamwork and our culture of being a united “family,” supporting and respecting each other,” Dr. Afilalo says.

With nearly 100,000 patients pouring through the doors every year, it’s truly remarkable that this ED staff does more than merely keep up. They read, react and overcome with poise.

“Without them, it just wouldn’t be possible. You can build and design the perfect Emergency Department, but without the proper staff, nothing would work,” says Victor Uscatescu, Nursing Education Consultant at the JGH ED. “It’s fantastic for me to be part of the educator team that trains such a high-performance group. On a daily basis we succeed in safely taking care of such a high volume of patients. And to watch the team grow into a family, that’s a big reward.”

“You come here and you don’t just make friends, you end up with a second family,” Jonathan Harroche, Assistant Head Nurse at the JGH ED, says with a smile. “You actually tend to spend more time with your colleagues than at home with your own family.”

The Emergency Department is a shining example of the great things that can be accomplished when people stick together. No questions asked, no hesitation, no second thoughts – just positive action for the greater good. Every employee demonstrates an unwavering willingness to go to bat for their fellow colleague, especially when times are at their toughest.

“We work long hours and do double-shifts because we don’t want to put our colleagues in a tough situation,” says 25-year-old nurse Kayla Feola, who has spent the last five years working in the JGH ED. “We stay because we’re a family and ultimately, that helps our patients.”

Though overcrowding during cold and flu season is par for the course, the threat of the new coronavirus has required the team to once again band together. Despite the obvious concern for Montrealers, staff members are facing the challenge head-on with experience on their side.

“Before coronavirus it was – and still is – Mers Co V, before Mers Co V it was Ebola, before Ebola it was H1N1, before that it was SARS,” says Valerie Schneidman, Head Nurse of the JGH ED.

“The Emergency Department Multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, orderlies, clerical staff and allied health professionals, are dedicated to being prepared and ready to meet the challenge of providing healthcare to patients for any eventuality,” she says.

“Our staff is incredibly adaptable,” echoes Mr. Uscatescu. “They are given all the instructions to safely handle potential cases. We go into the smallest details to make sure that everyone is safe.”

No matter the situation, this team of highly-skilled individuals has seen it all and continues to take the guesswork out of stressful and sometimes life-threatening situations. Experience, knowledge and compassion are truly the hallmarks of the JGH ED.

“The ED is a dynamic ever-changing environment, one day rarely looks like the next,” Dr. Afilalo says. “Very often, we work in an environment with high demands because of our high volume of patients and high volume of acutely ill elderly patients.”

He says the greatest reward of working in the ED is knowing that staff does its best to care for patients and deliver the highest-quality of care at all times.

“I feel blessed to be working with such an amazing team and have nothing but admiration for such hardworking individuals,” Dr. Afilalo says.