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The Pandemic Patient Experience

June 25, 2020

We practice for events like this, always hoping they never actually happen. But, as it has with most everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested us in ways we couldn’t have imagined or trained for and forced us to reexamine what it means to be care providers.

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As an organization, it has taught us patience, resilience and to adapt to a changing world. It has meant heartbreak and sadness but has also shown us just how strong we can be together. It has demonstrated the compassion of the community we serve and reconfirmed the importance of our mission.

One person who exemplifies that calling is Kristen Dawson, Manager of Patient Experience at Soldiers’. She is benevolent and gracious, and her personality couldn’t be more perfectly suited to her role.

“The patient experience in the time of a pandemic truly encapsulates what it means to partner with patients and their supports,” says Kristen. “It challenges us to put into action the essence of our mission, vision and values with a high degree of creativity, ingenuity, flexibility – where possible, and compassion – always.”

Kristen hits the ground running on an average day, but over the last few months has upped her pace to a sprint, hurdling over every challenge to go all out for our patients and their families in a time where safety precautions have limited visitors, face-to-face communication and changed the way we deliver healthcare.

“Patient experience is meant to involve everyone and never has this been made more apparent than over the past three months,” she explains. “I am proud that this work is being done collectively across our organization, across days, shifts and departments.”

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What she is referring to, is the compassionate solutions that these new challenges inspire.

When Hospital policy limits visitors, an iPad or tablet can connect patients to their loved ones, but “it has meant working to get technology into the hands of those who have never held such a device and for whom FaceTime quite literally means having those they love close,” shares Kristen.

Right now, the families and loved ones of Soldiers’ patients need just as much support and reassurance as the patients themselves. It’s difficult for families to provide meaningful support when they are unable to visit sick loved ones. “That means our family-centred care is two-fold,” says Kristen. “It means delivering cards, pictures, messages and care packages to patients unable to have visitors and it means checking-in on patients to report back to their loved ones to let them know they are safe and supported.”

For our at-risk paediatric patients, the experience encompasses sourcing food for parents in isolation with their children. And throughout the Hospital, “it also means spending time with some of the most vulnerable so that all feel loved, cared for, less alone and less scared,” she says.

The pandemic has implored us to find new meaning for the term “providing care”. “Whether it is holding phones up to patients as faith leaders offer prayers at the end of their lives or organizing social programming for patients struggling with dementia who can’t congregate and are incredibly impacted by the changes they experience,” offers Kristen. “Each patient’s needs are individual and require unique solutions.”

“It has meant showing great compassion and advocacy while working within the parameters of our current visitation policy, to facilitate welcomes at the beginning of life, goodbyes at the end of life, and witnessing equally heartbreaking separations and reunions at the entrances to the hospital,” she explains.

While physical distancing and staying home have helped flatten the curve, the threat of the virus is far from over. Hospital policies have had to ebb and flow with current research, clinical best practice and the guidelines set out by the Government as information becomes available. Those changes not only affect working conditions for staff but also how patients are able to interact with their healthcare providers.

As Kristen outlines, “We’re doing all of this in PPE where sometimes you struggle to be heard.” She says, “You hope you can convey much through your eyes and actions, and can never afford to lose sight of the collective commitment to providing the best and most caring of experiences, attuned to individuals and their unique needs, even during a pandemic.”

Despite the challenges, there are signs of positivity everywhere at our Hospital, both inside and out.

It started with a red, construction paper heart taped to a light pole in the parking lot and has grown to include a fully blossomed rock garden leading up to the building’s main entrance with messages of encouragement to the patients and staff within.

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Signs in the windows of homes and businesses hearten healthcare workers on their way to and from work and donations of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, services and money for medical equipment and supplies, have kept morale high in a time when fear can easily take over.

“The community has shown up for us in a big way and each one of us within the walls of 170 Colborne Street West is so grateful,” said Kristen. “In turn, we are committed to treating every patient as an individual, as a neighbour, as a friend. No matter what calamity we may face, we will get through it together.”

If you would like to contribute to the COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness Fund, donate here or call the Foundation Office today to find out how you can help.