‘We just tried to be that welcoming face when people came in’

Kathryn Tzimika (L) and Kay Nolan display some of the jewelry and crafts they helped create during more than a year of being redeployed together to the respite centre at Toronto Western Hospital. (Photo: UHN)

Laughter comes easily and the smiles are evident in their eyes.

When Kay Nolan and Kathryn Tzimika get together, they’re like a pair of old friends.

But theirs is not a longtime friendship, even though they both started at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) barely a month apart more than 20 years ago. They met earlier in the pandemic, redeployed to the respite centre at TWH, where they formed a bond over coffee, conversation and crafts.

“We just kind of jelled,” says Kathryn, administrative coordinator in Barr Lab, Division of Experimental & Translational Neuroscience, at UHN’s Krembil Research Institute. “I loved being in Kay’s presence, she made things fun.”

Kay, a detox specialist in UHN’s Addictions Outpatient Service at TWH, was redeployed to manage the respite centre, which was operated by UHN Wellness. It became a place for UHN staff members to get away on breaks, have a coffee or sweet treat, chat or try their hand at making jewelry or a greeting card.

“They were under a lot of stress, so we tried to get them to think about something different, get a smile on their face,” says Kay. “The place just did something for them, gave them a much-needed breather.”

UHN Wellness opened the respite centres across all hospitals at the start of the pandemic. Thanks to the generosity of donors, UHN’s foundations were able to provide beverages, snacks and art supplies.

Across UHN, there were more than 200,000 visits to six respite centres between March 2020 and December 2021, according to UHN Wellness. The average daily total of visitors during 19 months of operation ranged from 47 to 145 depending on the site.

At the TWH respite centre, Kay and Kathryn worked together from August 2020 to October 2021. Both admit they weren’t sure what to expect, but quickly came to appreciate the impact they were having.

“We just tried to be that welcoming face when people came in,” Kay says. “Some people just wanted to take a deep breathe, be left alone, or if they wanted to dance around the corner they could do that, too.

“We made jewelry and cards because it was another way of getting staff involved or distracted from the world of COVID-19. Within a few weeks, we had lots of orders for cards and jewelry but we also got staff involved to personalize the design.”

Both women say the atmosphere also had a very positive impact on each of them as well.

“It made me excited to come in every day,” Kathryn says. “You knew you were going to meet new people and do crafts and have good conversations with your co-workers.

“We got along so well and knew we were having a positive impact on others, and on ourselves.”

As the two women talk, Kathryn proudly shows a photo on her phone of a large, colourful, handmade retirement card for a long-serving TWH staff member made over a week by a group of the woman’s colleagues. The pair also array on the table in front of them some of the jewelry, birthday cards, paper flowers and other crafts created by the two of them, other redeployed colleagues and TeamUHN members who visited the centre.

Their redeployment over, both Kay and Kathryn have returned to their respective jobs. But they have pride and positive memories of the great work they and their colleagues did for frontline workers.

“We’re so thankful to all the redeployed staff and everyone at UHN Wellness for helping the respite centre blossom into what it became,” Kay says.

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