Making Waves: Turning uncertainty to calm – Andrew Heighton honoured with Outstanding Contribution Award for work with COVID-19 Response in Eastern Zone

Andrew Heighton

Andrew Heighton has never been someone to shy away from a challenge. In March 2020, he was returning from parental leave to work in the emergency department at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, when COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill. For many people, the uncertainty and the unknown with COVID-19 was scary. Heighton was drawn to it because he saw an opportunity to provide support and calm to people when they most needed it.

For his work as the Director of COVID-19 Response, Eastern Zone, Heighton is the recipient of Nova Scotia Health’s Making Waves: Outstanding Contribution Award. This award recognizes the contributions of an exceptional, physician employee, or team in their daily delivery of service to others. Recipients make positive contributions through consistent collaboration, creativity, and enthusiasm for the work they do.

Heighton continues to support Eastern Zone’s COVID-19 response and is taking lessons learned in that role and applying them to his new role as Director of Integrated Health, Rural Sites, Eastern Zone.

Tell us a bit about yourself; what you do, where you are located and your favourite part about it.

“I am a registered nurse, currently located at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish and since 2020, I have been the Director, COVID-19 Response for Eastern Zone. This role provided a breath of experience from managing and getting testing centres operational across Antigonish, Guysborough and Cape Breton to supporting the roll-out of vaccine clinics for both staff and the public.

I started nursing in 2005 and worked in the emergency department for 10 years. Working in an emergency department, provides you with a sense of urgency – you need to get things done right away. I was able to apply a lot of the skills I learned working in the emergency department to our COVID-19 response – the urgency, organizing things amid chaos, remaining calm despite the fast pace, high stress and being part of a team. In nursing, you’re always part of a team and that experience helped me embrace the work and engage people to help get things done.  

Over the past 18 years with Nova Scotia Health, my favourite part hasn’t changed –  it really is the people. The collegiality and continuous support the Nova Scotia Health team shows is inspiring, especially the work and support I witness every day in Eastern Zone and within our COVID-19 group.”

How do you feel your work contributes to the health and wellbeing of Nova Scotians? Why is it important?

“Our work over the past two and a half to three years within COVID-19 Response has contributed to the health of Nova Scotians in numerous ways, through guidance, reassurance, access to testing and vaccines and the leadership and support that the COVID-19 Response provided to all Nova Scotians – public and staff – from the onset, even though it was uncharted territory.

This was important because there was so much uncertainty and fear and there was a need to be able to provide consistent information and access to care. This leadership allowed Nova Scotia Health to provide ongoing, flexible, and innovative care in our testing centres and consistent updates in a timely, supportive fashion.”

What does it mean to you to receive the Outstanding Contribution Award?

“It is truly an honour to receive this award and it is not lost on me that COVID-19 Response was a team effort. It was great to have all teams, specialties, disciplines, and departments band together to ensure the safety of Nova Scotians. Awards and recognition go a long way to show people that teams are trying to make improvements and impacts. It also shows staff that their hard work is not going unnoticed.”

As this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Contribution award, how do you hope to inspire others who are working to make a difference in the lives of Nova Scotians each day?

“The lessons we learned from COVID-19 Response can be applied to many aspects of health care and I use them all in my new role. The importance of good communication, being able to provide all the information to help staff/managers make decisions and being able to move things forward. Being transparent, overall engagement, working with managers, meeting front line staff and being as present as you are able to be. You need to be there and understand what staff are facing and help look for solutions. Being there helps people feel supported and able to make changes in real time.

I hope that by having these awards, it continues to inspire front line staff and leaders. We have people – individuals and teams – who are moving mountains to improve health care and it’s important to acknowledge their hard work.”

Congratulations, Andrew on receiving the Outstanding Contribution Award for your work with COVID-19 Response in Eastern Zone. You provided calm leadership and made staff feel supported as they worked to meet the needs of patients and the public during the pandemic. Thank you.