The Polyclinic as a Complex Adaptive Human System

As well as supporting my country and city – and the benefits of international Sport in general – I love my volunteer gigs at the Games (2010 Olympics and 2015 PanAms) for 3 main reasons: i) it keeps me in touch with what’s new and different in clinical practice in healthcare; ii) helps me understand how younger, newer practitioners are the same or different from my demographic group, and iii) fuels my curiosity and understanding of complex human systems and how they operate and learn.

Thus this blog, which I’m using as a personal discipline to categorize my learning in some meaningful way. Putting pen to paper – actually fingers to keyboard – forces me to clarify for myself, and for you the reader, some of what is swirling in my head about systems, how they develop, learn and change, and hopefully continue to grow and improve.

I love watching complex adaptive systems in action – how the many parts of a rich, intricate and complicated system make the whole, how the system’s purpose – in this case to provide welcoming, meaningful healthIMG_4408care to the athletes and team members of the Toronto Pan Am Games – is played out by hundreds of people learning how to work in concert with others to make it happen.

The Polyclinic pictured here is a temporary structure located in the centre of the Athletes Village in the Donlands in Toronto. It is surrounded by Athletes’ living areas that will be turned into beautiful condos after the Games. It is a really nice part of town, easily accessible public transportation, easy access to lots of great spaces, with a brand new YMCA on site, and I’m told most of the condos are already sold.

Feeding the Hoards

One of the many challenges for VANOC is feeding hoards of volunteers 3 times a day at several different venues. I don’t know how many volunteers are working in the Athletes Village on any given day but the number is in the hundreds. Apparently there are 20-25,000 volunteers across all the sites.

Each individual receives a meal ticket when they check-in for their shift each day, evening or night. Every day there are 2 meat choices and a vegetarian one, as well as soup, salad, bread and butter, a drink and dessert for each person. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available all day long – particularly appreciated when it’s rainy and cold.

The food isn’t spectacular and lots of people are complaining but it tastes very good when you’re hungry! Dozens of volunteers are behind the serving tables dishing up the food. The lineups are long at key times of the day – an opportunity to get to know others in different jobs in the Village. Rumor has it that the cops – paid staff not volunteers – have complained about the food and so it has improved but I haven’t seen any difference.

It’s really interesting to see that the volunteer corps represents all ages and life stages, lots from the Vancouver area as well as other parts of BC. Then there are people like us from other provinces and a few from other countries.

First Day on the Job

Gord dropped me at the skytrain at 615am where I boarded the Waterfront line bound for the Olympic Village. It’s a great system, 2 cars per train, very clean with nice big windows to see the scenery, lots of standing room with bars to hang onto, and decent seating. Large tracts are outdoors so the views are terrific.

The Olympic Village stop is at False Creek just before the downtown core. The stations are modern, clean and busy enough to feel safe even late at night. Lots of police presence and they are friendly and helpful. I’ll be glad of this when I finish my evening shifts. A 15 minute walk gets me to the Village where I must remove my jacket, cell phone, keys and such to get through the scanners which are manned by friendly volunteers charged with protecting the Village and ensuring that the hundreds of volunteers get in and out efficiently each day. They operate 24/7 because of the number of volunteers coming and going on each of 3 shifts.

Once in the Village I check in at Workforce where I am greeted warmly, my badge is stamped , I am given a bottle of water, a lunch or dinner ticket, a newsletter and a cheery message to have a good shift. If I’m early I can go to the meal tent where there is always coffee, tea, hot chocolate, snacks and lots of other volunteers in their blue jackets and vest. I realize I will meet some very interesting people in this tent!

I’m greeted casually in the Polyclinic where a group of nurses, doctors and admins like me are invited to sit in for a report which is a scattered dialogue among a group of people getting to know each other and the work to be done. When we introduce ourselves, we realize people have come from far and wide to be here – and all volunteers – even clinic managers who have been working for months to get things ready.

I’m shown briefly how to use the computer where I will register patients for immediate appointments and schedule others in a booking system. It’s all fascinating and I get involved figuring it all out. The bad new is that its all pretty casual, seat-of-your-pants learning opportunities, the good news is that it is all pretty casual, no one takes themselves too seriously, there’s always someone to help out and we all settle into the day’s work. I’m going to enjoy this!

First day in Vancouver – We’re keen to check it all out

We arrived in Vancouver last night at dinner time. A clear and beautiful day woke us early. The time change – Vancouver is on Pacific time which is 3 hours earlier than Eastern Standard time – sent us to bed earlier than usual and up, ready to go early to see what’s happening here. It was sunny in Vancouver which is a rare and wonderful event. The temperature reached 11C. We watched the snow-capped mountains in the distance as we motored up to Vancouver in Karen’s Honda Civic. Traffic is light on a sunny Saturday – lots of locals on bikes and walking – all basking in the sunshine in their light fleece jackets and shirtsleeves! What a difference from Toronto in February.

The city is alive with anticipation. Continue reading “First day in Vancouver – We’re keen to check it all out”

Preparing to leave Toronto for Vancouver…..

Countdown to leaving Toronto is D-3 and the reality of getting away for a month is beginning to hit home. There’s lots of talk in the papers, on TV and the web about Vancouver and how they are getting ready to greet the world – beautiful shots of beautiful Vancouver. It looks very exciting out there!

And for me, some wakeful nights – its now 3am! – as we prepare to leave home for a longer period than ever before – to date our holidays have – at most – been one or occasionally two weeks away. So the questions loom large in the middle of the night. Have I remembered to do everything I need to do to prepare to be away from home for a month? Will I be finished all my contracts and projects so that I have the freedom to put myself fully into the volunteer work I have promised to do in Vancouver? Will I be able to catch onto the job of Admin Assistant in the Village Polyclinic quickly enough to feel competent? How hard will it be to get to the polyclinic in the Olympic Village from where we are staying in Ladner? How long will it take? What happens when I arrive at the Ladner Exchange on the bus at 1am – perhaps exhausted after a full shift and long commute – and need to get to the house two kilometers away?

This is all both exciting – a very new and different experience – and scary, as the unknown always is.

Volunteering at the 2010 Olympics

About a year ago my husband Gord and I applied to volunteer at the Vancouver Games in February. After a lengthy process that included several applications and telephone interviews, including an RCMP security check, we were formally accepted this past August. Gord is in Transportation and I am in Health Care – both at the False Creek Athletes’ Village in Vancouver, British Columbia.

One of the criteria for being accepted, and it’s a very important one, is that you can arrange your own accommodation, always in short supply during any Olympic Games. We’ll be housed at our eldest daughter and her husband’s home in Ladner about 20 minutes south of the Vancouver airport.

We’re excited! The countdown is now at D-14 days before we hop on a flight to Vancouver on February 5th. We have recently received our work schedules and job descriptions, Gord’s includes a list of gear he will be given in order to perform his duties – more on that later.

It will be a new adventure, as well as a sabbatical of sorts, since we’re putting our work lives largely on hold to do this – and moving mentally into a semi – retirement phase of our lives. I say semi- retirement because we don’t yet want to give up our work lives completely but we would like to carve out more time to create adventures such as this one for ourselves. Gord is already saying maybe we can fast track into a volunteer role at the London Summer Games in 2012 because of the experience we’ll be getting in Vancouver!

The run up to this time has been interesting to say the least – It started as a lark, an opportunity to begin to stretch ourselves beyond the 40 plus years of relatively ordinary work lives we’ve had until now, and to begin to think about moving into another phase of living.

So now here we are only days away from actually doing it.