Live feed from emergency and critical care rooms

These stories feature Public Services and Procurement Canada employees who came forward to join the initial emergency effort to procure personal protective equipment for Canada’s healthcare workers as COVID-19 pandemic cases began to climb across Canada in early March last year. Each is a story of different personal circumstance, but all are connected by three common themes: Dedication. Professionalism. Caring.

For more stories like this one, read the story of Alain Dorion and Amanda Assi.

Jonathan Hamel has been a supply specialist in the Quebec Region at Public Services and Procurement Canada for six years. He joined the Pandemic Response Sector in early April 2020. Of all the team’s members, Jonathan understood earlier than most why the situation for front-line healthcare workers was so dire.

Jonathan Hamel’s wife Geneviève, an emergency room doctor at a hospital in Granby, Quebec, was seeing the situation getting worse daily as COVID-19 cases mounted and the hospital’s supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) were being quickly depleted.

Jonathan was getting a “live feed” descriptions from his wife about life from the front lines. And if her descriptions weren’t enough, he also watched her create her own solo procurement effort.

She was tapping into her own list of friends and acquaintances in an effort to get supplies of masks, eyewear, medical-grade gloves and other protective necessities for the hospital where she works.

“That was the situation I was witnessing at home,” said Jonathan. “I have a good procurement background, the knowledge to adapt fast, and I felt the need to support the Canadian effort to fight the pandemic. And it was also important for me because of my wife’s work.”

A man is on a chair in front of a desk with an open laptop on it. A woman is standing in the background.

Jonathan Hamel and his wife Geneviève Baril: A double personal protective equipment effort.

In those early weeks of Canada’s COVID-19 outbreak, Jonathan was procuring PPE for Canada from his kitchen table, while his wife was desperately trying to do the same on a micro scale for her colleagues. “People were coming to the house to supply us with homemade face shields or masks that they had stored at their job site,” recalled Jonathan.

Changing the big boat’s course

Jonathan’s regular job is to support Defence Research and Development Canada, in Valcartier, Quebec, with its procurement needs. It’s a professional experience that he says was invaluable as he worked through the often uncertain early days of the PPE procurement effort, screening offers from suppliers as they began pouring into the Pandemic Response Sector team’s inbox.

“We had to evaluate each proposal,” he said. “Was it realistic or not? Would they be able to perform the work? We had to evaluate the product to make sure it complied with Canadian standards and regulations. Would the product be available when they said it would be available?”

“Back in April,” he added, “there could be two million units available on the Monday morning and by lunchtime, all were sold to another country. So it was a race against the clock and a lot of adapting and negotiating to get what we needed.”

Jonathan says it was the agility of the entire procurement effort that was most impressive.

“When you look back at the speed and efficiency of the team, it was pretty remarkable,” he said. “This is a big boat and not an easy one to maneuver. We were not used to changing direction so often and so quickly. But everyone demonstrated that in an emergency, they are able to do it.”

Jonathan is now back at his regular job but stands ready to return to the team in a heartbeat should the situation demand it.

“A lot of bad stuff has happened in recent months, but there are also really, really good things that happened,” he said. “It’s human nature to recall bad stories more than good stories. But all the good stories that came out of this, all the situations the team successfully dealt with: I am happy that they can be told and shared.”

Bad things indeed, but the grim year ended in joy for Geneviève and Jonathan with the birth of their first child, Theodore, on December 20.

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