How are NWT health professionals being prepared for Covid-19?
As Stanton Territorial Hospital treats its first Covid-19 patient, the NWT’s health authority says supports for staff are evolving to keep pace with the coronavirus pandemic.
The first patient requiring hospital treatment was admitted last week having been taken from Fort Resolution by medevac. Late last week the patient was said to be in a stable condition, with no update since.
As of Thursday, the territory had five confirmed cases of Covid-19. The remaining four all involve people recovering at home.
With the territory bracing for the number of patients needing medical care to rise, Cabin Radio asked how staff are being prepared for the unique demands of treating people with the coronavirus disease.
A health authority spokesperson said daily calls between managers of health services and community health centres were taking place, with a focus on ensuring supplies are ready and training and certifications up to date.
“Training and staff development is an ongoing activity as the situation develops and needs to be measured and responsive to the situation on the ground,” wrote the spokesperson, David Maguire.
“We have been making significant efforts to ensure staff are aware of any new processes or practices we are putting in place in response to Covid-19.”
Some of those new processes include a guide for healthcare providers to deliver virtual care appointments – ways of looking after residents without needing to see them in person, for example by using video or phone.
Staff are also being briefed by video, and in writing, on the proper wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and “appropriate use of the testing kits,” said Maguire.
“Staff have completed PPE demos and audits on donning and doffing PPE intensively since January,” he wrote.
Maguire says the authority is “working with individual staff to ensure they have thorough understanding and practices in PPE use.”
That includes checks where PPE wearers watch each other put on and remove protective equipment, to make sure safe donning and doffing processes are followed.
In Inuvik, Maguire said cross-training efforts – professionals learning other roles – are under way. More sessions are planned in the coming weeks.
“Three family practitioners have cross-trained with a general practitioner anaesthetist for ventilation basics,” he wrote.
Simulations in hospitals
The NWT’s health authority is offering “grand rounds” weekly – sessions in which medical staff come together to discuss how cases are treated. All recent grand rounds have been dedicated to aspects of the territory’s Covid-19 response.
Staff are also able to access sessions provided by healthcare workers from other jurisdictions.
For example, said Maguire, a recent session on Covid-19 emergency management was provided online by the University of British Columbia.
The health authority is working with Alberta Health Services to deliver training on situations that might happen during Covid-19 acute care.
Stanton Territorial Hospital, the first major line of defence for any NWT Covid-19 patient, has been running simulations in its emergency department, intensive care units, and operating rooms.
Those simulations include how confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases will be managed.
“These simulations look at intubation, emergency surgery, emergency C-sections, and other scenarios,” Maguire wrote. Similar simulations are running at Inuvik’s hospital, he added.
Ordinarily, front-line medical staff are not authorized to discuss their personal views on training with reporters.
Cabin Radio approached the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), which represents a wide range of healthcare professionals employed by the NWT government, for its members’ views on training provided to date.
Todd Parsons, president of the union, said it had been working closely with the territorial government on safety.
In a brief statement not specific to healthcare, Parsons wrote: “The UNW continues to work with employers to ensure that the health and safety of workers is paramount, and to address any issues directly with the employer if and when they come to our attention.”