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Johanna Wolfert: How long have you been working in long-term care?
Pam Mulder: I have been in LTC for about 15 years, holding various roles as a registered nurse. I started as an RN on the front line before moving along to a Continuous Quality Improvement and Infection Control coordinator. I then worked for a pharmacy company, auditing LTC homes on their medication management and training Unregulated Care Providers, like personal support workers, to administer medications in retirement homes. Then I moved onto Director of Care at two different facilities, but have since returned to my roots as an RN on the front line.
JW: How has the outbreak affected your work in LTC?
PM: The COVID-19 virus has changed how we enter work. We are screened each time we enter the home—answering five questions and having our temperature taken. Last Wednesday (March 18), a survey was sent to all staff inquiring whether we would be able to work a 12-hour shift in the case of an outbreak at the home, including if we would be willing to work with other departments, with training. I agreed to 12-hour shifts and offered my services to the dietary and housekeeping departments. I figure, here’s a chance to learn more about this sector!
JW: Has the coronavirus had an impact on staffing levels?
PM: This virus has already affected staffing levels. Many staff have been abroad and were returning as the strict new guidelines of self-isolation were put into place. So the plans of many staff, who figured they could return without incident, had changed.
This past Monday, for example, I went to work my eight-hour day shift. A night nurse was sick with just regular symptoms, and I agreed to come back for the night shift. Then on Tuesday, I was asked to come in at 3 a.m. and work a 12-hour shift. Very different hours, but using some inventive scheduling, we had the shifts covered.
It’s only the beginning. I keep an extra uniform in my car just in case. We have a long haul here. And I feel we are ready.
JW: What is the biggest threat facing LTC workers right now?
PM: Let’s talk the obvious: if COVID-19 comes into any long-term care home, this is the most vulnerable sector. Residents are old and have multiple health problems, including respiratory problems. This could potentially wipe out our population.
As for staffing threats, the biggest is the rumours or false news about the virus. Where do we go to get our news? Unfortunately, many go to social media. This is scary. When I left work last Wednesday, staff members were scared that if the virus came into the home, staff would not be able to return to their own homes and would have to stay at work, away from their families.
Our associate director of care sent out an email to all nursing staff, asking them to contact her with any concerns and get the “real” updates from her. She supplied her own cell phone number and pleaded with staff to call her first. That, in my eyes, is the best move ever. It diminished my anxieties right away—I hope it did for the rest of the department.
JW: As some of our readers may have heard, Ontario’s chief medical officer recently announced restrictions on all non-essential visits to long-term care homes. Have you noticed a difference since this ban was announced?
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PM: There’s a strict ban: no visiting, only essential visits for palliative, end-of-life, or very sick residents. I have only seen one visitor allowed in so far.
What is cute to see is families that are visiting their loved ones through their windows and talking on their cell phones. One family brought in posters to a resident’s window with “WE LOVE YOU, OMA!”
Actually, at this time, the residents are doing quite well. Recreation has beefed up their programs. Skype and FaceTime are being put into practice—I have heard of a couple of families doing this already. I would say about 10 per cent of the residents know what is going on.
JW: Is there anything the public can do to support you and your fellow LTC workers during this crisis?
PM: The public has already been great. Let’s just get through this. We are all being inconvenienced and are enduring our own struggles with this. Healthcare professionals are at the most risk, yes, but at the same time, I think of people laid off from their jobs and are not sure if they are going to have money for food next week.
I hope that after all this, we can say that the good news was that we were there for each other. We have never done this before—but we are learning.
I have a passion for this work. My hope is that optimism is more contagious than the COVID19!