From Trenton to Operation Remote Immunity: Red Cross Worker Shares his Journey in Public Health Nursing

By Jon Adam Chen, Communications Advisor in Ontario
When Sarnia-based George Rudanycz retired after 38 years of critical care nursing in 2019, he believed that his most hectic days were behind him. Today, George is grateful to say he is busier than ever.

“When the pandemic came about, I decided that, because I was a long-time volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross, maybe I could get mobilized to some event that would make a difference.”

George, who also serves as an elected Council Member of the Ontario College of Nurses for the Southwestern Region, believes that acting on his humanitarian values has opened doors that he previously knew little about.
George Rudanycz siting inside vaccination centre
Photo: George played a crucial role on the Red Cross clinical team administering vaccines during Operation Remote Immunity.
George has adapted his skillset as a registered nurse to the field of public health and has taken on roles designed for nurses, within both the Canadian Red Cross and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

George has leveraged the clinical assessment skills he honed within fast-paced hospital environments during his career. At the same time, showing kindness to patients in moments of uncertainty has been of utmost importance in his new field of public health nursing.

Working on the Red Cross clinical team sent to Trenton airbase at the request of the Government of Canada in early 2020, George was responsible for assessing the first waves of repatriated travellers for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

George went to greatlengths to keep a personal touch with the people he assessed to lift their spirits. 

“There was a teacher I was assessing that was always looking at me very intently when I would ask her questions. She was very focused on listening. When the questions were completed, I said, ‘I'll give you A’s for all your responses.’ She was very happy to hear that!”

George’s most rewarding experience came this past Spring, when he was recruited to join the Red Cross clinical reservist team working within Operation Remote Immunity. Prioritized in Phase 1 of Ontario’s vaccination framework, Operation Remote Immunity offered COVID-19 vaccines to remote, fly-in northern Indigenous communities. The operation was developed in partnership with Nishawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and was led by Ornge, Ontario’s provider of air ambulance and critical care transport services.

At the request of the Government of Ontario and in support of Ornge, the Red Cross provided clinical support in three communities. George worked as a vaccinator administering shots to people in two of these communities - Cat Lake and Sandy Lake.

George Rudanycz and team with backs turned to camera pointing at their jackets

Photo: Sandy Lake First Nation provided jackets to the clinical team participating in Operation Remote Immunity. George (top left) says this was a great honour for him

George was the lone Red Cross worker that went to Cat Lake, joining a clinical team from Queen’s University in administering vaccines. He says the team grew closer after being snowed-in one night and sleeping at the aircraft hangar staffed by a local mechanic.

“The snow was falling like little pillows. The pilots went onto the tarmac and said it was not safe to go back.”

Sandy Lake, an Oji-Cree community located 600 km northwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario, was the last community visited by Operation Remote Immunity. Due to its relatively large population of over 2,500 people, the entire team of Red Cross vaccinators worked in Sandy Lake.

Like the assessments, George thanked everyone for doing their part to protect themselves and their families from the virus. He remembers some people confided in him that, after initial hesitancy, they came for their vaccines once they heard from friends and family that it had been a pleasant experience.

Two gestures have left a lasting impact on George. The first of these was Sandy Lake First Nation offering jackets to the clinical team in appreciation of its work. “It was a great honour that they would give us these jackets that they make for their own people. Once we got them, we wore them every day.”

The second gesture was even more personal – George recalls that, after administering needles into people’s arms, he often heard them mention that they could hardly feel their shots, and that they would be pleased if he could personally administer their next one. “For them to ask me to do their next needle was probably the most rewarding thing anybody could say to me after doing those vaccinations!” George says this itself reflected a broader acceptance of the work on the part of the communities.

1,066 people were vaccinated by the Red Cross through Operation Remote Immunity, an achievement George is proud to have played a part in achieving.

Reflecting on his whirlwind journey to becoming a public health nurse, George hopes that the past year has given people a greater appreciation of the contributions that healthcare workers make. “Until the pandemic happened, no one realized the amount of work that nurses actually do. The entire healthcare system is so critical to the wellbeing of society.”

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