Staff Profile – Jaymi Chernoff

When the history books are written, March 12 could very well be the documented day the COVID-19 pandemic response officially began in British Columbia. Late that afternoon, in her address to the province, B.C.’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, strongly advised against all non-essential travel, detailed self-isolation protocols for those returning from outside the country and introduced a practice that many had never heard of before – social distancing.  Just six days later, on March 18, the province would officially declare a state of the emergency.

On that same day, March 12, Jaymi Chernoff officially accepted the job as the Executive Director of Clinical Services, Kelowna General Hospital.  She had been fulfilling the role on an interim basis for less than 2 months.  Prior to that, Jaymi had been demonstrating her rising potential for organizational administration and leadership as the Program Director, Cardiac Services for Interior Health.  She’s also somehow been able to manage the build, birth and mothering of two children over the past seven years.

The job is significant, carrying with it the responsibilities of managing all aspects of hospital flow, logistics, scheduling and capacity.  Imagine the role as akin to that of a conductor of a large orchestra.  Skill, timing, a highly tuned ‘ear’ and effective communication are the hallmarks of excellence.  Under the conductor’s direction, the individual musician’s efforts give way to the symphony – each instrument doing its part to contribute to become something even more extraordinary.  On the other hand, should the conductor lose her way, the result can be disastrous.

When she was offered the job permanently, Jaymi couldn’t have known the full measure of what was to come, but she knew the score just got a lot more complicated.  And still, she felt ready.  She said yes.

In hospitals around the world, coordinated emergency response has been made more efficient through the establishment of Codes.  Code Red – Fire.  Code Blue- Cardiac Arrest.  Code Pink – Pediatric Emergency. To initiate Code protocol, three chimes tone over the hospital intercom, followed by the code, which then activates the dedicated response team and a strict protocol.  The codes are extremely important, allowing trained hospital personnel to respond quickly and appropriately to various events while also mitigating concern or panic by visitors and people being treated at the hospital.

But there is no Code Pandemic.  Jaymi, along with hospital department managers and the health authority, would have to literally write the score and conduct the orchestra while the musicians were playing.

Jaymi originally trained as a Registered Nurse, a job which she credits for giving her the fortitude to be able to think clearly and act decisively in times of crisis.

“As a registered nurse, when something like this happens, the adrenalin kicks in and your training takes over. You just do what needs to be done,” she says.  “There was a lot to do and a lot to learn.  This was something we had not faced before. It required an incredible team effort.  The key was to our ability to stay on top of the disease and work together – people working in harmony with groups they had never worked with before.  New collaborations were created and they really came together as one.”

Preparations were made for a large surge of patients at KGH. Staff were mobilized and in some cases, redeployed.  New protocols to manage infected patients were developed.  Physical environments in all areas of the hospital were adapted.

While the community dutifully complied with ‘stay home’ recommendations from the province, Kelowna General continued to provide services to hundreds of patients every day.

It became increasingly apparent that new equipment and patient care items were urgently needed to both avoid cross-contamination and address unanticipated gaps that were arising as a result of Code Pandemic.

Jaymi’s role includes working directly with the KGH Foundation to enlist the help of the community to fund these unanticipated, urgently needed equipment requests.  The establishment of the foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund provided a way for the community to directly support their local hospital and health care staff.

“Our teams continue to treat people with cardiac disease, cancer, stroke and everything else the hospital deals with on a daily basis.  Managing what we experience every day, plus what we need to do to stop the impact of the pandemic has been the real challenge. That is where our community has provided the most valuable support.  As this is new for us we never know what will be the next thing we need, but the community through the KGH Foundation has been with us every step of the way, providing much needed equipment and supports as the need is identified.”

While she may be new to the conductor’s role, Jaymi knows first-hand the calibre of talent she is dealing with.  “I am so proud of everyone at KGH,” says Chernoff. “Just thinking about their superhuman efforts fills me with emotion. From food service workers, housekeepers, and administrative personnel to nurses and physicians and every part of the hospital and Health Authority, our staff has stepped up. The people of the interior should also be proud of the people who work every day to keep them safe and to help them when they need it.”

Unlike most other hospital Codes, Code Pandemic can’t be resolved in a few minutes, hours or even days.  It’s becoming widely understood that the health and lifestyle changes brought on by COVID-19 will remain for some time, and may have permanently altered the way in which our health systems are managed.

When asked about how the past couple of months in her new role have affected her personally, Jaymi needs no time to consider her response.  “I’m inspired.  I love my job. I love this community, this hospital and especially the people who work here.”

“We’ve got this.”