Orthopedic unit overhauled twice during COVID
How do you cope and respond when your orthopedic unit switches to a COVID unit, virtually overnight?
“You just do,” says Anna-Marie Papiz, Manager of Patient Care. “We just had to make it happen.”
Papiz and her team of 50+ colleagues on GD2 were among the many frontline heroes at HSC who found ways to adapt practice and go the extra mile to provide the best care possible during the busiest days of COVID-19.
GD2 is where patients are treated before and after surgeries for back conditions, broken limbs, and other orthopedic injuries and illnesses. Within just a couple of weeks of the first case of COVID-19 arriving in Manitoba in March 2020, GD2 converted from an orthopedic unit to a “COVID suspect” unit. Patients in the hospital who had COVID symptoms, regardless of their primary reason for being in hospital, were moved to GD2.
“Suddenly we were no longer a surgery unit, but a medicine unit,” says Papiz, a practising nurse with over 30 years of experience. “It was a learning curve because these patients had different needs.”
The unit was reduced from 30 beds to 15 to lessen the risk of virus transmission, and contacts with others in the hospital were limited. When supplies were needed, for example, GD2 personnel would form human chains to bring in supplies from a single location. “It was like sandbagging during a flood,” says Papiz.
By the summer of 2020, the unit reverted back to orthopedics with strict COVID protocols in place. In the fall, they switched yet again. This time, GD2 became a “COVID Red” unit, meaning they were treating patients with confirmed cases.
For Papiz, her colleagues, and health care workers everywhere, treating COVID patients—especially in those early months of the pandemic—was stressful, frightening, and challenging.
“You could be talking with a patient who seemed just fine and then an hour later they would be in serious distress and needing oxygen,” says Papiz. “We had to focus on providing the best care we could while keeping ourselves safe as well. We got through it because we supported each other.”
Papiz also credits the unit’s performance to a shift to what is known as a “teams model of care”, a model adopted by many health care facilities in response to the challenges posed by the pandemic. In simple terms, a “teams model” means that people would perform tasks outside of their usual duties, but still within their scope of practice and training. For example, health care aides would take vital signs when needed, and physiotherapists would be called upon to take care of admissions and discharges. This approach ensured that patients’ needs could continue to be met safely when people had to miss work due to illness.
“We would do team huddles four times a day to make sure everybody knew what their tasks were,” she says, adding that she and her colleagues are writing a journal paper about their experience with the teams model in the hope that other hospitals might benefit.
As she reflects on those busy and stressful days, Papiz remembers the “wins”, like how her colleagues came together, how challenges were overcome, and those special moments when staff could create some positive moments for patients by connecting them with their loved ones with tablets funded by donors to the HSC Foundation. “The tablets were a morale booster for everyone,” says Papiz.
In 2021, GD2 became an orthopedic unit again, with important lessons learned for the delivery of health care going forward.
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