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IN IT TOGETHER: On the front lines of caring for patients with COVID-19

Posted Apr 29th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: On the front lines of caring for patients with COVID-19

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Dr. Lorraine Jensen, who is part of the team caring for patients with COVID-19 at our St. Catharines Site

The hardest part about caring for patients with COVID-19 for Dr. Lorraine Jensen is the severity of the virus and how quickly the condition of patients – especially the elderly – can worsen.

As a General Internal Medicine physician at Niagara Health, Dr. Jensen treats patients – many of whom are elderly - with a wide range of acute and chronic health conditions.

“I’ve always cared for the elderly population in Niagara, that’s the nature of General Internal Medicine,” says Dr. Jensen. “Seeing how this disease has disproportionately affected the elderly in terms of the mortality rate has been exceptionally difficult for me. As physicians, we would love to be able to cure everyone."

Dr. Jensen, the Site Chief of General Internal Medicine at our St. Catharines Site, has been a member of the Niagara Health team since 2015. In addition to providing care to people with COVID-19, Dr. Jensen also helped lead the creation of the unit dedicated for patients with the virus.

Describe your involvement in setting up the dedicated COVID unit at the St. Catharines Site?

Early on, we had to identify a unit where we could cohort these patients to hopefully avoid cross-contamination throughout the hospital. If we were going to learn from places like Italy, we knew that cross contamination could happen. As well, 4A was chosen because they are already a very cohesive group and are the respirology floor. So we knew they had the experience that was necessary to care for these patients, as it is predominately a respiratory illness.

How do you care for patients with COVID-19?

The main focus of care for patients with COVID-19 infection is supportive; this means we provide oxygen, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics if we suspect a secondary bacterial infection. There are clinical trials being developed to test antivirals, but for now we do not have a cure. I think often more than medical care, we are also providing emotional support for patients and families who are not only dealing with the fear of the virus, but also the social isolation of being admitted to hospital.

How has your work changed during the pandemic?

The biggest thing is that now every patient visit requires really careful consideration of personal protective equipment (PPE). I have a routine in my head that I go through each and every time I see a patient so I don’t have a lapse in PPE, so that I’m protecting myself and patients. It does take longer to see patients because of the donning and doffing of PPE. And because visitors are not allowed in the hospital, my routine will then involve calling the family member from the patients’ phone in the room or calling the family afterwards. I’ve also used my phone so patients can FaceTime with family. My approach to patient care has not changed. But the absence of family members has changed things in a big way for everyone. It’s forced us to think of inventive ways to keep families involved in the care of their loved ones.

How does this virus compare with other respiratory illnesses like influenza?

The thing for me that has been surprising is how quickly people with COVID can get very sick. One day they can be doing quite well and the next day they can be critically ill. The acuity of that has been something that I’ve learned as I’ve been treating patients with this virus. The thing that scares me on a population level is how contagious it really is and also that it’s a new virus. We don’t have all of the answers yet in terms of the treatment of this virus because it’s only been around for a couple of months, where we do have experience with influenza, for example.

How has the pandemic impacted you personally?

I have been working more, both clinically and from an administrative perspective, and so that has been challenging for my family. I have two young children and that has been challenging for them. They have noticed that I have been working more. I think that has played an emotional toll on them and on me. It’s also been challenging for me, which I know everyone else is dealing with, not being able to see my own parents, and having to physically distance from them.

Describe working with the team on 4A?

I knew the staff on 4A would rise to the occasion, but they’ve even exceeded my expectation. They are a very cohesive group. They work extremely well together. Everyone from the environmental services staff on the floor, who are very upbeat and optimistic and are performing an extremely important job to keep everyone safe, to the personal support workers, to the nursing staff, to the physiotherapists, occupational therapists, the Charge Nurse and Lesley (Collins, the Unit clinical manager), everyone is very engaged and everyone is very committed to providing the extraordinary patient care they provided prior to the pandemic. That’s what keeps me going, that we have this amazing team and I know I’m not dealing with this alone.

Click on the In It Together button below to read more stories about our team.

Niagara Health System