South Muskoka Memorial Hospital: A Family?s Gratitude

This article was originally published in the 2020 Fall Issue of Invest In Style Magazine.

In January, 2020, Dallas Grogan warned his three daughters about the dangers of the new virus. “Girls, I worked through SARS and this is going to be much worse,” he told them. The 86-year-old retired doctor knew what he was talking about. He’d lost two colleagues during the SARS epidemic. But three months after he advised his children, Dr. Grogan was on a ventilator, the first Covid-19 patient in South Muskoka Memorial Hospital.

It is a common misconception that all hospital needs are covered by tax dollars. SMMH relies on donations to fund equipment, health care education and important renovations This year, the foundation will provide over $1.5 M in donations as well as an additional $200,000 for pandemic-related changes and renovations to promote physical distancing in their patient rooms and waiting areas.

South Muskoka Memorial Hospital (SMMH) is part of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC), which provides emergency and in-patient care at two hospitals, one in Huntsville, one in Bracebridge. On April 2nd, Dr. Grogan was admitted to the 59-bed Bracebridge facility. The Grogan family, residents of Muskoka since the 1970s, are familiar with this hospital. “We’ve all been in and out of the South Muskoka hospital for years. Our kids show up there with water-borne illnesses or the occasional fracture,” says daughter Pam Taylor.

The hospital’s 24/7 emergency department sees almost 22,000 patients every year – on average, 60 per day. About six out of 10 patients seen in the ED need some form of additional follow-up, such as lab work or diagnostic imaging. SMMH has X-ray, CT, ultrasound and mammography as well as a laboratory. While their fracture clinic gets a bit busier in the summer, the hospital provides year-round support for residents and visitors of all ages, including a seniors’ assessment and support outreach team. Surgeons perform more than 4,700 procedures here every year.

When Dallas Grogan was admitted to SMMH he tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Despite his age, his wife Jane and their three daughters were shocked he’d become so ill. He was a man who embraced life, an avid painter, gardener and golfer; a man who enjoyed travelling with Jane and keeping up with the lives of his grandchildren. But the day after his admission to SMMH, news came that his condition had worsened overnight and he needed to be put on a ventilator.

From left to right are Lisa Grogan-Green, Dallas Grogan, Jane Grogan, Pam Taylor & Cheri Grogan. Photo by Harry Taylor.

Colin Miller, Executive Director of South Muskoka Hospital Foundation, says the hospital had prepared for patients with Covid-19. A pandemic surge plan was in place should additional capacity be required. When Dallas Grogan was admitted, every necessary protocol and procedure was already in place.

New hospital protocols and visiting restrictions meant that neither Jane nor any other family member could enter the building. While media reports of families standing outside hospital and care facility windows later flooded our newsfeeds, in the first week of April, 2020, the Grogan family was among the first in Canada to experience the heartbreak of being unable to visit and hold the hand of their loved one. “We’re the type of family who would have been there all day if we could have been,” says Pam. But SMMH did their best to keep the family apprised of Dallas Grogan’s condition.

One afternoon the family suggested a Zoom meeting with Dallas’ care team and by the next morning the hospital had set it up. “The communication with the hospital was very good. One of us would call the hospital then patch in the other family members,” explains Pam. Twice a day, nurses held a phone to Dallas’ ear so he could hear his family encourage him. One nurse in particular got personal details from the family and recorded them on a white board so all the staff could talk to him about his life and family during their shifts. Doctors and nurses kept in regular phone contact with Jane.

Then came another kind of call.

On the morning of April 9th, an extremely cold and windy day in Muskoka, four cars sat parked outside South Muskoka Memorial Hospital. The hospital had agreed to let Jane in to say goodbye to her husband of more than 60 years before he was taken off the ventilator. Wearing full personal protective equipment, she was taken into his room. Daughter Lisa wrote a goodbye love letter to her father and read it to him from her Toronto home, via Zoom link. Daughters Cheri and Pam were in the parking lot, in their own cars. The family was still in quarantine, keeping their physical distance from each other.

When Jane was escorted back to the parking lot, the nurse said she would return and deliver the news in person, which she did, 25 minutes later. Dallas Grogan was the first Covid-19 patient to die in South Muskoka Memorial Hospital. “For my dad to die in Muskoka was fitting. He was head of emerg in Scarborough for a couple of years and most of his career was spent working in a community hospital,” says Lisa. “He loved Muskoka.”

Four months after their loss, Jane and daughters Pam and Lisa talk to me by phone, recounting together the details of Dr. Grogan’s life and last days. They remember the name of every nurse and physician they talked to at SMMH. They tell me that last year four ICU beds with the capacity to be manipulated remotely were donated to the hospital. Dallas Grogan benefitted from one of these beds that allow nurses to help prevent bedsores while decreasing their own risk of exposure. According to Dr. Grogan’s daughter Pam, “If he hadn’t been on one of those amazing beds, it would have been much worse.”

SMMH would like to offer a special thank you to the many cottagers and seasonal residents whose generous contributions reflect the special place that Muskoka holds in their hearts as their home away from home. Photo Courtesy of SMMH

During our call, Jane and her daughters listen carefully to each other, adding a date or a detail, sometimes gently offering a correction. They want to get this right. Their loss is great, but so is their gratitude for the state-of-the-art medical and extraordinarily compassionate support extended to Dallas Grogan and his entire family by the staff of South Muskoka Memorial Hospital.