Retired nurses honoured for work during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Retired nurses who returned to the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic are being honoured.

Instead of honouring one nurse this year, the 15th Annual R.N.A.O Lois Fairley Nursing Award is going to "Retired Nurses Who Came Back to the Front Lines."

The College of Nurses of Ontario put out a call for help in March of 2020 to retirees and those who had let their nursing licenses expire, as hospitals in Windsor-Essex and across the province braced for an increase in patients as the pandemic unfolded.

Retired nurses helped to meet additional staffing needs at nursing and long-term care homes, care networks and healthcare centers, with just over 50 nurses coming out of retirement to work at Windsor Regional Hospital alone.

Mary Louise Drake of Windsor is one of the nurses who came out of retirement to help out during the pandemic, with the 82-year-old working at various COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Windsor-Essex.

"When nurses answer the call because people are ill or need help just in terms of the situation where they are, they go because of that commitment to human beings and that commitment to taking care of someone in need," she says.

Drake says she really likes looking after people.

"When you do something for somebody, that person doesn't necessarily reward you or recognize what you've done but it comes back to you in a million other ways. The fact that you've done something for somebody makes you feel good within yourself," she says.

Drake worked with Lois Fairley through the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and several community committees, calling her a very conscientious and also very supportive of people.

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Mary Louise Drake of Windsor, 82, was one of a number of nurses who came out of retirement to help with front line healthcare needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 15th Annual R.N.A.O Lois Fairley Nursing Award recognized "Retired Nurses Who Came Back to the Front Lines" during a ceremony on May 9, 2022. (Photo by Rusty Thomson)

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says it was a very trying time for the community when the call for help went out in the early days of the pandemic, as he spoke during the award ceremony at Windsor City Hall.

"All of you who had moved on to retirement said 'you know what?, we're here, we're going to help, we're going to be here, we're going to help the community, help people that we don't know in situations that we don't fully understand yet, get to the other side of that.' It is so impressive what you've done to help this community to get where we are today," he says.

The 15th Annual Lois Fairley Nurse of the Year Community Service Award recognizes a Windsor-Essex nurse or nurses demonstrating a commitment to serving the community through excellence in delivering nursing care. 

The annual recipient is selected by members of the Fairley family and the Windsor-Essex chapter of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario from nominations received from the public.

Lois Fairley was a graduate of the Salvation Army Grace Hospital's nursing program in 1955. Lois spent her career serving patients at Grace Hospital in Windsor as a registered nurse and head nurse on various floors. She also served the nursing profession as a member of the Provincial Board of Directors of R.N.A.O., served as President of the Ontario Nurses Association (O.N.A.) and was a member of the St. Clair College Nursing Program Advisory Committee (P.A.C.).  Fairley passed away in 2007. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (R.N.A.O.) instituted this award for Windsor Essex nurses in 2008.