Navigating the ‘New Normal’ at The Natural Health Centre in Barry’s Bay

I remember very clearly when I was finishing up my work day on Friday March 20, 2020 and telling the receptionist what a strange turn of events was taking place and seemingly so suddenly as the week came to a close.  Maybe we all would have a few days off at the start of next week – maybe even a full week unexpectedly (imagine a holiday forced upon us!) – as news unfolded of this scary new virus that was making its way around the globe. Above: Colette Szalay outside The Natural Health Centre, summer 2019

Fast forward a couple of months and I was getting antsy not working. How long is this crazy situation going to last? The chiropractic association gave us some leeway to allow us to see patients who were deemed more urgent. However, this was a very grey area – how severe does pain have to be for it to be an urgent situation, and who makes this call: me or the patient who insists their pain is dire that particular day? Is the agony of severe headache deemed urgent, or are we talking urgent as in a flared up low back disc and the person can barely walk? 

A few of my colleagues in Toronto, for example, maintained some office hours at the start of the pandemic, although with greatly reduced clientele.  Those with huge downtown rental office costs could not afford to weed out which patients to selectively treat and were happy instead to accept anyone that was willing to come into their offices, but there were murmurings that they could be reprimanded by the association if someone reported them.  Still others like myself shut down until there were more defined allowances for fully resuming regular business, just to be on the safe side.  Admittedly I was nervous in the beginning being a high-contact practitioner and I wasn’t about to take any chances.

How the Centre has adapted

Then came the stress of how to prepare the Centre to be ‘covid-safe’.  We have ten rooms in the building and among them are 14 people who work here, plus myself and three other staff members at various times.  Even with two floors, the waiting areas on each level are relatively small, so it would be next to impossible to socially distance our clients. And with this many people working in the building, albeit not all at once thankfully, there would always be overlap of people coming and going in these common areas. So much to consider! The breather of almost a couple of months off for me very much helped get my head wrapped around what needed to be done to get these new protocols in place.

The first thing done was to step up the cleaning from the usual twice a week to now daily cleaning that includes a once over sanitizing of all the common spaces using a bleach solution. I give much praise to our cleaning person who is doing an amazing job keeping up with this tedious routine and covering every surface possible. Another necessary change was to get rid of reception room chairs with woven cloth type covers and replace them with newer wipeable versions.

Then we went through the new policies and required procedures: mask wearing, visible signage put up everywhere asking the typical questions related to COVID-19 symptoms, big arrows were put on all the hand sanitizer stations, and I found plexiglass for the reception counter that fit perfectly without damaging the desk or the ceiling. Reception staff now ask the COVID-19 screening questions as my clients enter the office and document this on each person’s file. Somehow my husband, Scott, continued to juggle his role as the ‘beautification expert’ of the Centre, while maintaining his job up north all week.

Little things were taken into consideration like putting in a new touchless garbage bin in one of the bathrooms where previously you had to touch the top of the revolving lid to dispose of garbage. Each bathroom also has a box of nitrile gloves for optional use, which was graciously given to us by St. Francis Memorial Hospital when at the start of the pandemic we couldn’t find disposable gloves anywhere. But I do remember feeling kind of smug that I fortunately had a huge stash of toilet paper ordered just before the pandemic hit. Boy, was I feeling lucky with all that toilet paper stashed away in the storage room. I’d be set for at least six months by my calculations if it really meant an apocalypse of sorts was coming!

More recently we’ve installed touchless wall-mounted temperature sensors at all three entrances. These are on all day and with a simple wrist check, practitioners have the option to use this as an added screening tool at the door for themselves and with their clients. Not every tenant has adopted this new screening tool yet, but I have seen a couple of clients testing out their wrist temperatures when they first entered without being prompted by anyone. At the end of the day, this pandemic has made everyone more accountable in doing their part, so it’s nice to see people being extra vigilant.

A boost from the Digital Main Street program

The Natural Health Centre is grateful for a grant received from the Digital Main Street Program, which allowed us to design and launch a comprehensive website www.NaturalHealthBB.com which includes all the practitioners and services available in the Centre. We hired Kelly Klinck locally, and it took some time to figure out how to best showcase the variety of services we have in an organized fashion, and we are very happy with the end result. The website was launched just this past fall, following an exceptionally quiet time at the Centre when the pandemic had affected many peoples’ businesses.

The plan to have a website was not on the radar for some time following our second major renovation in 2019 to add more office rooms, but with the Digital Main Street grant we were able to bring this to fruition much earlier than anticipated.

The Centre returns to (new) normal

As for how the Natural Health Centre is doing overall? We are almost back to the full vibrant place it once was, even now with the newest lockdown measures introduced on December 26. I know of two tenants who have yet to return as they are able to do their work from home; all the rest are back for business as usual, including myself. With my son just returning to school after five weeks of winter break (please, a moment of silence in gratitude of this fact), I admit I am especially exuberant to be working and immersing myself more fully into the Centre’s day to day operations without having to think about juggling online schooling or looking for ways to help keep my son engaged and off screens.

The Centre has made it through an exceptionally challenging time, as have many of us. This whole coronavirus situation is not over by any means, but it is nice to know that the community of Madawaska Valley has this resource offering many types of services and that our doors are still open.

About the author: Dr. Colette Szalay D.C. settled in Barry’s Bay in 2009 to raise their young son where she and her husband Scott co-own The Natural Health Centre. With over 20+ years of chiropractic experience, Colette practices part-time working with all ages, from infants to elderly.

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