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In It Together: 'Providing safe care for our community is our top priority'

Posted Aug 28th, 2020

In It Together: 'Providing safe care for our community is our top priority'

The members of our Greater Niagara General (GNG) Site Hospitalist Team use their wide-ranging professional backgrounds to help oversee patients from admission to discharge, as part of a team of allied healthcare professionals. Although the team had to operate a little differently during the pandemic, their commitment to extraordinary patient care remained the same.

“I am very proud of the GNG Hospitalist team's response during the pandemic. Whether it was helping create surge capacity, supporting the physician backup system or helping each other out during stressful times, they were always just one phone call or text away," says Dr. Faraz Masood, GNG Site Chief of Medicine. “The way they all stepped up during this pandemic is nothing short of exemplary. They are a committed, selfless group of people who have shown immense camaraderie and work ethic."

In the spirit of teamwork, members of the Hospitalist team worked together to answer our In It Together questions.

What is the structure of this team and its role at the GNG site?

Dr. Saima Husain:

The GNG Hospitalist team is made up of five physicians and one to two nurse practitioners who help coordinate inpatient care on the medicine units at the hospital. Combined, we look after an average of 130 to 150 inpatients on any given day and are responsible for the flow of patients from admission to safe discharge. We are a diverse group of colleagues with a range of professional backgrounds and can easily rely on each other to provide insight and care to our patients. The commonality amongst us is we all put patient care first and look after the best interests of our patients.

What changed, or became more prominent, for this team at the onset of the pandemic?

Dr. Jennifer Robert:

At the onset of the pandemic, our focus was preparedness for a potential surge in COVID patients.  This required us to come together as a team by means of regular communication via videoconferencing and emails.  We had to develop backup plans in the event one of us fell ill or we experienced a surge that would require more physicians on the floor to help care for patients. 

This was a very stressful time to work as a physician, while at the same time dealing with our own uncertainties at home about the pandemic.  However, our commitment to the hospital and providing safe care for our community is our top priority.  We came together as a team to find solutions in order to work through our daily challenges – adapting to our new policies and procedures. 

How has the team performed during the pandemic?

Dr. Nikhil Kalra:

The pandemic presented a number of challenges that our Hospitalist team has managed admirably.  One of the largest trials was handling the outbreaks on the Trillium Unit and Unit D at GNG.  As part of the infection prevention and control measures put in place, our physician and nurse practitioner assigned to these units were limited to managing only the patients on those units. This caused some changes in how our team operated. We worked through these changes together, with all of our decisions made by consensus. Our sense of togetherness as a hospitalist group allowed us to continue providing excellent patient care throughout the outbreaks.

How did your team, alongside their colleagues, help maintain a safe patient care environment?

Dr. Faraz Masood:

Our first consideration was the well-being of our patients. Our team helped ensure all infection prevention and control procedures and protocols were followed. Due to the No Visitors Policy in place at that time, we also ensured families were updated regularly and patients saw their loved ones via video.

The well-being of our clinical team was another important consideration. The majority of our team members have young families, but despite that, everyone remained in touch with each other. Effective communication in times of crisis is of paramount importance. Seamless communication between front-line staff and senior leaders across the organization helped us address challenges promptly as they arose.

What has been the most challenging part about working during the pandemic?

Nicole Smith, Nurse Practitioner:

The isolation. 

This includes the isolation faced by healthcare workers, families and patients. For those of us on the front line, we were isolated from our families, children, parents, grandparents, and those dear to us. Personally, I spent a lot of time worrying about the well-being of my relatives.  There were frequent phone calls to check-in - just to make sure that they were managing and didn't need anything – as well as dropping off groceries and waving to my loved ones through the window.

Life did not stop during the pandemic. There were both good times and bad times. With this isolation - both celebrating and grieving became very difficult. Zoom meetings are not the same.

Our patients were removed from regular visits with family. However, we found creative ways to keep them connected to their loved ones by using tablets, FaceTime and lots of phone calls.

How has patient care changed during the pandemic?

Dr. Fahim Ahmed:

As the pandemic brought about necessary changes to control the transmission of COVID-19, our primary focus was to ensure that patient care was not compromised. One of the most challenging changes for our patients, as well as our hospitalist team, was the No Visitors Policy. This was quite difficult for our elderly patient population, as family members not only provide comfort during a time of sickness, it also gives us an opportunity to discuss medical treatment options and provide the best patient care.

Our hospitalist team, along with our wonderful nursing staff and allied health team, ensured constant communication with family members, so that they were not only updated about their loved one, but it also allowed our team to collaborate with family members to ensure we were providing the best patient care possible.

Are there any lessons learned during the pandemic that you and your team will continue to implement going forward?

Dr. Adnan Hussain:

A pandemic like this is probably a once-in-a-generation event. During such large-scale events, there are always lessons to be learned, several of which we will carry forward with us.  One lesson was conserving our supply of personal protective equipment, as this was something that we perceived to have an unlimited supply of prior to the pandemic.

The most important resource, of course, are our team members. It is easy to take for granted your physician, nurse, allied health and other healthcare professional colleagues. Throughout the pandemic, we helped one another wherever possible, picking up if someone was unable to come to work.

Niagara Health System