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IN IT TOGETHER: Caring for stroke patients during the pandemic

Posted Jun 24th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: Caring for stroke patients during the pandemic

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 Leanne Hammond, the District Stroke Coordinator and manager of our stroke inpatient unit and Allied Health team at the Greater Niagara General Site.

Ensuring the safety of patients and staff while also continuing to provide timely care to people suffering a stroke in a new environment has been top of mind for Leanne Hammond and others in our regional stroke program.

“It has been challenging because it’s all new. And things can change quickly,” Leanne says of providing care during the pandemic. “There is a lot of new information, and integrating that immediately into the care that you are providing to the patients while keeping the team safe is so important.”

Leanne is Niagara Health’s District Stroke Coordinator and manager of our stroke inpatient unit and Allied Health team at the Greater Niagara General (GNG) Site in Niagara Falls.

The Niagara District Stroke Centre, based at GNG, provides care for patients who suffer a stroke or a mini-stroke (also known as transient ischemic attack – TIA). The team also provides inpatient care, rehabilitation and follow-up counselling at the stroke prevention clinic. The team providing care to stroke patients consists of a wide range of disciplines -- Neurologists, Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Pathologists, Social Workers, Dietitians, Cardio Diagnostic and Diagnostic Imaging staff.

Key to their work during the pandemic – and all of the time – is collaborating with their partners, including Niagara EMS, Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre and the stroke program at Hamilton Health Sciences.

Leanne, who has Master’s degree in Nursing, with a specialty in Stroke Rehab, has been part of the stroke team since 2003. She has served in a variety of roles during her 27 years as a Registered Nurse, including 21 with Niagara Health.

What precautions has the program taken to enhance safety during the pandemic?

For the emergency portion of our program, we worked closely with our Emergency Department team at GNG, which is where we administer clot-busting drugs to people suffering a stroke or care for them in other ways, such as sending them to our Central South Stroke Team partners at Hamilton General Hospital to receive clot retrieval/removal or endovascular treatment. The pandemic has heightened our use of personal protective equipment and introduced many new processes to keep everyone safe. We made sure our patients had access to the same treatment in a timely way, but also in a safe manner. We also continue to use virtual care in the Emergency Department. We use the video-conferencing via the Ontario Telemedicine Network, where we can connect with our Neurologists virtually to bring them into the Emergency Department and work with our physicians, staff and our stroke program Nurse Practitioner.

What has changed in the outpatient Stroke Prevention Clinic during the pandemic?

We have turned our Stroke Prevention Clinic into a virtual clinic. All consults with patients are done over the phone. All of our patients are very pleased with the tele-connection because they appreciate that we are staying safe, they are staying safe and they are getting all of the information that they need related to stroke prevention. As we work toward more in-person visits, I think there is still going to be a virtual component of the stroke prevention clinic.

How else are you using virtual care in the program?

We’ve added a virtual component to our inpatient (stroke patients admitted to hospital) consults as well. In some cases, Neurologists can discuss a patient’s care plan with the physician on the inpatient unit over the phone or through video conferencing, when appropriate. For our staff, we’ve offered a lot more virtually nursing and team education. We have more nurses interested in taking the time to do extracurricular stroke courses and virtual stroke rounds. We’re doing it virtually because we can’t meet in person.

Describe how the team has performed during the pandemic?

I can’t say enough about them. They’ve been incredible. Over the last number of weeks, there have been an influx of strokes and the team has continued to step up and provide great care. I am proud to be a member of this great team.

What’s the most challenging part personally for you during the pandemic?

I feel like I’m missing the networking and the personal connection. The pandemic has been very socially isolating, both at home and work. I didn’t hug my kids for a few months because I wanted to keep them safe. Even at work, you’re socially distanced from your colleagues. Those are the people that you work with every day and you solve problems with, bounce ideas off of. You can still do that, but it’s not the same in-person connection. It was especially difficult in the beginning; however, our teams are adapting extremely well in this ever-changing environment.

How do you wind down after work?

I do a lot of walking with my kids and my dogs. We love to walk on the Welland Canal Parkway and forget about everything that’s going on for awhile and focus on family.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

When I was younger, 15 or 16, I worked at a long-term care home in the small community where I grew up. It was there where I saw how a nurse could change someone’s life. Whether it’s spending time with a person or functionally working with them, nurses cross the continuum of care for the patient. It made me think I can give back to the community that way.

June is Stroke Month. Learn more about the Niagara District Stroke Centre here.

Read more In It Together stories about our team here.

Niagara Health System