Cancer patient treated by COVID-19 positive doctor waits in isolation for more information

juravinski cancer centre covid 19 hamilton

When Lynne Ballantyne arrived at Juravinski Cancer Centre for her radiation appointment on Wednesday, she was immediately brought into a room and told to wait. 

Shortly after, two people wearing protective suits and masks entered the room and told Lynne, 76, she had been directly exposed to COVID-19. 

She was handed a mask to wear, instructed to go home and self-isolate. 

This was the scene Lynne described to her daughter Carrie, who was waiting in the car for her on that day. 

Lynne was one of 11 cancer patients who had been in direct contact Monday with a Juravinski radiation oncologist who later tested positive for COVID-19. Carrie was also in attendance when her mom met with the physician. 

Carrie is worried about what comes next for her mother, her upcoming treatments and says she’s not satisfied with how her mother was told, how much she was told and that so far there has been no follow up from the hospital.

Both Carrie and her mom are uncertain about what this all means — what happens to Lynne’s therapy plan? Why aren’t they being tested? 

Carrie said she doesn’t blame the doctor, she’s just “angry” that they weren’t contacted sooner.  

“There’s reports (that) they found out at 10 o’ clock on Tuesday night, we did not go (to the hospital) until noon on Wednesday, why did they not contact us? 

“They had 14 hours to contact (11) people,” Carrie said.  

After Lynne’s radiation treatment for skin cancer, they both met with a physician who looked “very healthy” — little did they know, the doctor was about to begin experiencing symptoms and would soon test positive for COVID-19. 

On Wednesday, local health officials confirmed that Lynne’s doctor, a radiation oncologist at Hamilton Health Sciences cancer centre, contracted COVID-19 from a trip to Hawaii. The 32-year-old physician, a resident of Burlington, Ont., is now in self-isolation, but had been in contact with 11 cancer patients, five non-medical staff, three doctors and a senior resident when she returned to work.  

Hamilton Health Sciences vice-president of oncology and palliative care Dr. Ralph Meyer told CBC News on Thursday that, to his knowledge, public health has been in contact with all the patients.

He could not confirm whether hospital staff had reached out to all those directly impacted, though he said it has been their “intent” to do so. 

“We have a role to do, public health has a role to do and as we coordinate that, it’s understandable how patients may receive messages or a patient’s family may receive a message that they feel is incomplete,” Meyer said.

“We’re working on attempting to make that better, including reassurances for those who we think it’s in their best interest to continue with treatment next week.” 

At a Wednesday press event, health officials said that when the incident took place they “were able to respond very quickly.”

Halton Medical Officer of Health Hamidah Meghani, Hamilton Medical Officer of Health Elizabeth Richardson, and Barry Lumb, chief of medicine at Hamilton Health sciences, updated media in Oakville Wednesday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

But Carrie said she doesn’t feel that that was the case with her mom. 

She says Lynne missed a call from Hamilton Public Health at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and even though her mom called them back, she’s yet to hear from the health service. Carrie added that she hasn’t personally been contacted, but has taken it upon herself to self-isolate and notify her local health authority in Brant County. 

The fact that her mom has cancer in addition to underlying health issues, including an autoimmune disease, is cause for “a little bit of concern,” says Carrie. 

As for her mom’s treatment plan, Carrie says the hospital cancelled Lynne’s upcoming appointment but hasn’t yet provided any information on what it means that the therapy has come to an abrupt stop. 

For cancer patients who would be negatively impacted by a 14-day gap in treatment, Meyer said they have consulted with public health and are finding a way to “safely” continue their care. 

This would likely involve patients coming to the centre in protective equipment at the end of the day, when there’s not as many people around. 

“This has come out of our desire to ensure we’re balancing the risks of the COVID-19 issue with the needs for these patients to get the best anti-cancer therapy,” Meyer said, adding that they will be in contact with a few priority patients to resume treatment early next week. 

While Carrie and Lynne wait for more information, they plan to stay in self-isolation. 

“I think we’re both shocked and scared right now — it’s the unknown.” 

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