A Kind Gesture – A Simple Strategy to Support Health Care Worker Wellness and Boost Morale during the COVID-19 Pandemic at Humber River Hospital

In spring of 2020, hospitals across the province of Ontario slowly admitted suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. As we entered into a state of emergency and subsequent lockdown, the public responded with an outpouring of respect and recognition for all frontline workers, including those in healthcare.

News headlines and other media likening healthcare workers to superheroes during the first wave of COVID-19 provided encouragement and motivation to keep going.

Now over a year after the first confirmed case in Ontario, we in healthcare continue to run a marathon with an unknown finish line. Health care workers come to work every day with a desire to do the best they can to support high quality patient care but the COVID-19 road has been long and arduous and health care worker fatigue is high.

Humber River Hospital (HRH) provides services to a catchment area of over 850,000 people in the North-West Greater Toronto Area, a region that has been greatly affected by COVID-19. As a result, the HRH developed a Staff, Physician and Volunteer (SPV) Health & Well-being Plan that acknowledged the strain COVID-19 would take on our frontline workers. The plan was based on three pillars: keeping our SPVs safe, keeping our SPVs informed and supporting our SPVs' mental & psychosocial health.  

The first two pillars, safety and information sharing, largely satisfied the needs of our SPVs during the first wave of the pandemic when so much was unknown.

Now, as we enter the third wave, it is the third pillar of the psychosocial and mental health of our SPVs that is of the greatest importance. With this in mind, in February of 2021, we initiated a recognition strategy we termed The Kindness Cart. The intention was to create a cart that would visit all units, both clinical and non-clinical, on a rotating schedule to deliver personal care items. These included mini hand creams and chap sticks, individually wrapped foods such as granola bars, protein bars and candy bars, as well as mental health support information. With the collaboration of our Infection Protection and Control team, our Volunteer Services and our Patient Flow Managers, we developed a plan that was safe, incorporated infection control measures and focused on recognition and thanks.

The preparation taken to put this concept into action has paid off, as the feedback has been extremely positive for not only our SPVs, but also for the operators of the cart who are now encouraging the organization to continue this endeavour:



'The Kindness Cart initiative was highly appreciated by every SPV that we encountered. We got some amazing comments such as 'You made my day' and 'This is lovely'. One staff member seemed quite overwhelmed and said 'thank you' multiple times also while saying it feels great to be appreciated, seeming to have almost teared up. I think it is an overall fantastic experience and an excellent way to visit different departments at the hospital.' -Volunteer who operates the cart


This initiative was made possible by the endorsement of the concept by the organization as well as the collaboration amongst HRH Foundation, Infection Protection & Control, Volunteer Services, Patient Flow Managers and Organizational Development. A major factor that led to the success of The Kindness Cart thus far has been the comprehensive scheduling to take into consideration all units and all shifts. HRH relies on staff, physicians and volunteers to support patients, especially during this time. The Kindness Cart provides the opportunity to exhibit the Hospital's appreciation with this simple, kind gesture.

A key lesson learned:  personal care items are just as popular as the individual wrapped snacks!

For further information, feel free to contact:  Jessica Allison Manager, Organizational Development at Humber River Hospital