Clinical healthcare workers have been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic at West Park for almost a year now, and they’ve experienced its ups and downs. Between COVID-19 outbreaks, employee illness, staffing shortages, and life, no clinical unit has had a smooth ride. In honour of Heart and Stroke Month, West Park’s Service Spotlight is featuring the Neurological Rehabilitation Service - our first clinical spotlight.
As information about the novel coronavirus was initially unfolding – and constantly changing – staff on units had to be flexible and adaptable, from modifying their clinical practice in accordance with infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures to eventually taking on surge patients from neighbouring acute care hospitals.
While all units across the hospital were adjusting to a new way of providing care, neurological rehabilitation was in a unique situation as a high-intensity rehabilitation program.
“Our team had to get creative with how to provide therapy in these new circumstances while also keeping staff safety in mind,” Amie Enns, Clinical Practice Leader - Occupational Therapy, Neurological Rehabilitation, recalls.
While adjusting to new rules from municipal and provincial governments, the neurological rehabilitation team was also dealing with some expected and unexpected staff turnover over the past year, including retirements, parental leaves, and staffing shortages. What are typically normal changes in staffing became much more challenging during the pandemic.
Under such challenging and unique circumstances, it’s not unexpected to see a human cost associated with the constant change and uncertainty in healthcare. On top of facing burnout from nurses working double shifts, working with staff shortages, and covering staff sick calls, clinical staff have faced immense fatigue not only from COVID-19, but from compassion and week-to-week changes.
“As with any unit, there were times where our staff were stressed and anxious because of work, but also because of their personal lives as well,” says Rachna Chaudhary, Service Manager, Neurological Rehabilitation. “But every member of the team stepped up during those times. We rallied together, and the comradery I saw kept the team going, and it still does.”
Despite the stresses that came with the pandemic, the neurological rehabilitation team found different ways to lift each other up early on. Michelle Efrosman, Physiotherapist, organized Friday morning dance- and sing-alongs with employees, physicians, and patients standing in doorways and hallways – six feet apart – for eight weeks.
Lynn Suter, Clinical Practice Leader – Physiotherapy, also helped keep spirits up with daily ‘memes’ sent to her teammates through email, providing everyone with a much-needed laugh during stressful days.
Daily informal huddles – which eventually transitioned to weekly – also provided the team opportunities to support each other through the highs and lows. As well, the physicians and environmental services employees continued to be consistent and reassuring presences on the unit.
The neurological rehabilitation team had to adapt to a changing environment once again when they had their first COVID-19 outbreak declared at the end of January, 2021.
“There was a lot of grit and determination from all our staff on the unit during the outbreak,” says Chaudhary. “Some of our nurses pulled from their own experience during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, and we all continued to do our best providing care for our patients. We really couldn’t have done this alone.”
Chaudhary notes that while change is hard, life continues and important moments still continue to happen; despite the challenges, everyone who worked on the unit still came together to celebrate milestones or mourn losses – albeit differently than before. “Nothing will ever be perfect, but we helped each other through it and were still able to provide exceptional care that the team should feel extremely proud of.”