OPINION: Here's what I experienced at The Credit Valley Hospital drive-thru COVID-19 assessment centre in Mississauga

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Do you have two or three hours or possibly more to spare?

I recently went to get tested for COVID-19 at the Trillium Health Partners (THP)—Credit Valley Hospital drive-thru assessment centre, located in the main parking garage at 2200 Eglinton Ave West. I’ve been through the process with my family twice for different reasons and it's never been easy or quick.  

To be fair, THP does state that lengthy wait-times can be avoided by following a booking process that involves being virtually assessed by a THP physician, pre-registering and booking an appointment at the assessment centre. Following a virtual consultation with a THP physician, patients are contacted by the THP registration team within 24 hours to book a same day or next day appointment.

While booking an appointment ensures you avoid the drop-in lineup (although we encountered some issues with this), my family and I still faced major delays due to what we found to be a convoluted process for both unscheduled and scheduled drive-thru appointments. Even though THP's website asks residents to book a scheduled appointment online to reduce wait times, waits are still—in my experience—unbearably long. 

Back in June, I tried to schedule appointments for both my husband and myself online to avoid potential lineups. We were both required to independently create our online profiles on a virtual medical care service partner website called Maple. Once our profiles were created the doctor assigned to our files called each of us independently and confirmed the reason we were looking to get tested.

During my call, I asked the doctor if my husband and I could be scheduled at the same time so that we could carpool together. The doctor confirmed that someone from THP would call me to book the appointment and that I could advise that person at the time of booking. 

About two hours later, someone from THP called to schedule my appointment. She advised that appointments can only be booked on the day you plan to get tested. I didn’t know this, nor was this information indicated anywhere on the website. I was not available at the time she suggested and I asked to schedule it for the following day. She indicated this was not possible and that I’d have to go through the entire process online again tomorrow for an appointment that day. 

How frustrating. 

My husband received a call from THP shortly after and he was able to schedule his appointment for the following day. He also asked whether I could also be scheduled at the same time. The THP staff member confirmed that I could just show up with my husband since I was already in the system. 

I asked multiple times if there was anything else that I needed to do to ensure we were both seen at the same appointment. She confirmed again that I could just show up with my husband.

The following day, we encountered a long line up that started at Credit Valley Blvd.

The website indicates that you are to enter off of Credit Valley Blvd from Eglinton to access the COVID assessment centre. The boulevard is lined with signs indicating that it is the COVID-19 drive-thru but it’s unclear as to where those with appointments should enter and there weren’t any THP staff around to clarify.

It didn’t make sense that we’d have to line up since we took the time to create our online profiles, get screened by a doctor, schedule our appointments online and confirm them with a THP staff member the day prior.

We weren’t going to sit in that line up when we scheduled appointments, so we turned around and entered another way so that we could bypass the line and find out where to go. A security guard advised that we could drive right up to a different entrance (that was adjacent to the drop in entrance) that a THP staff member decked out in PPE was manning.  

When we arrived, the staff member asked for our health cards and found my husband’s scheduled appointment but not mine. I explained that I was advised over the phone that I could just show up with my husband, that I was already screened by a doctor and in the system.

She explained that there is no process to schedule appointments for people in the same vehicle together since there is no way to do it with their current online process.

We were asked to park and wait while they gathered my information from another department.

It took them an hour to get my file in order and delivered to the on-site staff to prepare my COVID-19 test kit. 

So much for booking online.

At this point, we had probably spent over two-and-a-half hours combined for the entire process to get tested. The lineup for drop-ins looked like it was moving faster than we were. 

Who knows if we would have gotten in faster if we had just lined up.

We were both tested while sitting in our vehicle by staff fully decked out in PPE. The test involves swabbing your throat and nose with a long cotton swab, just like you’ve probably seen on the news, YouTube, and social media. 

The staff do warn you that your gag reflexes might be activated and to brace for that. It’s unbelievable how long the swab is and that they stick it up your nose and in your throat, but it honestly looks worse than it feels, so relax. It felt like my brain and throat were being tickled and I couldn’t help but gag.

Test results are published online and can take a few days. Our results took two days and we were negative, thank goodness.

Positive results are delivered through a phone call. Although on a separate occasion, my aunt says she received a phone call for a negative result and didn’t trust it since it clearly indicates on the website that only positive results are communicated by phone. She waited until her results appeared online, and she was in fact negative.

On another occasion, my brother, who is a nurse, scheduled an appointment online for the drive-thru and had the same experience as my husband and I. He was actually waiting in a lineup that extended all the way to Credit Valley Boulevard because he was confused as to where to go.  

He had to get back to work and called me to ask what to do since I had been through the process. I guided him on where to go and he was told to park and wait before being tested. He spent over an hour waiting.

It would seem confusion is quite common, as THP told insauga.com that staff members regularly check the lines for those that have an appointment and direct them to the ‘fast track’ lane of the assessment centre. 

THP said that patients in this ‘fast track’ lane will typically wait no longer than 30 minutes for their appointment, but we waited longer. 

Fast forward again to this week, my family and I went through the online process again but didn’t receive a phone call to schedule our appointments.

We decided to attempt a drop-in at the drive-thru and showed up at 6:30 pm, one hour before closing. 

The boulevard was empty, but when we approached the assessment area and tried to check in with the THP staff, we were told that the centre was closed. When we said that we should have an hour to get tested, the staff member told us it would take the entire hour for the few cars in line to get through.

We explained that we tried to schedule an appointment online but no one contacted us and she reminded us that it could take up to 24 hours before someone calls us.  

It’s been five months since COVID hit, and the process still feels painfully slow and disorganized.

As we move into Stage 3 and reopen schools, bars and indoor dining, I can’t help but think, "is it too early?" We're told that if we have symptoms, we must self-isolate and get tested. With the province reopening more fully, I’m sure we can expect to see the number of people needing to get tested rise. After that, the flu season will hit and more tests might be needed. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it.

Do we need to get a better handle on testing quickly and conveniently in one of Ontario's biggest cities before we reopen schools and almost every business in the province? 

Based on my experiences, I'm not quite sure.  

To learn more about getting tested in Mississauga, click here

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