Lessons learned from COVID-19: An Indian hospital’s perspective

Soma Chakraborty, Vice President, Facility & Support Services for Medica Superspecialty Hospitals in India, reflects on the lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the healthcare industry.

Covid-19 has brought hospital infrastructure to the fore like never before. Usually, whenever we speak about hospitals, we always think about doctors, nurses, paramedics, equipment etc. These were the common parlances, until Covid-19 hit the world.

This deadly virus has shown us that tackling a pandemic is not just about treating patients clinically, but prior to that, creating the right infrastructure to treat these patients. That was the biggest challenge faced by most hospitals.

How quickly hospital preparedness and responses were tailored within existing infrastructure, utilising the existing workforce, were some of the key factors that made all the difference. Fast adoption and modification of policies and guidelines in conformance to those issued by national and international agencies, such as WHO, CDC, and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) was another important factor.

The huge pressure on increasing the number of beds in just a few hours necessitated the transformation and reopening of non-Covid patient areas, renovations completed on war footing basis, equipment like ventilators and HFNOs (High Flow Nasal Oxygen, which are machines that supply oxygen to patients) installed, protection devices distributed, risk prevention measures adopted, and round-the- clock training of staff to familiarise themselves with the new guidelines.

In an unpredictable situation like this pandemic, human resource management becomes an even more challenging task. Ensuring adequately trained staff with new protocols and continuity of operations in response to increased demand is one of the most crucial aspects. As there is an increase in the demand for housekeeping and maintenance staff during these times, sourcing these staff becomes a highly challenging task in itself. Even post-recruitment, one cannot afford to just assign duties. Continuous training has been the order of the day so that they are aware of latest protocols, know how to perform tasks such as donning and doffing of protective gear, and rise above their own fears and apprehensions.

Accommodating surge capacity through adaptability of infrastructure for more beds in critical care, isolation areas, cohorting of patients, while keeping a constant check on the availability of ventilators, ECMOs and other resources, call for a 24/7 working of the Facility Team braving all odds, especially during a lockdown when supplies and logistics were difficult.  It’s almost like one is fighting a three-way war – against Covid-19, meeting timelines with challenged supplies for added capacity building, and ensuring staff remain safe from being infected.

The most important concern was to create a new facility within the existing facility with reduced or no risk of Covid-19 transmission. The triaging of the patients became useful while dealing with confirmed and suspected cases.

While discussing the lesson, one can never forget the acute shortage of supplies, either due to non-availability with the vendors, or because transport was banned and borders were sealed. Personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and sanitisers were just not readily available when the outbreak happened. However, many industries quickly changed gears to start manufacturing these items, including ventilators, which helped in easing the gaps between demands and supply. Many start-ups were formed to supply the essential items to hospitals. The Indian government’s initiative of Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) found its true essence in this turbulent period.

During the lockdown, services related to food items, transport, laundry, medical gases, and information technology were severely affected. But, before any major problems emerged, vendors increased their scale of operations, transporters stretched their hours, while the local police and administration also came forward to help assuage the crisis. The synergy was praiseworthy.

Hospitals are among the most complex of institutions. We have seen so far that the workforce that manages this terrible pandemic requires the right attitude, transparent communication, clear vision, togetherness, appropriate approach in patient care and adaptability to changes.

The learning is never complete. The pandemic is still ongoing, with newer variants reported from any corner of the world. But we as global healthcare service providers are now better equipped to fight the menace.

In summary, we can say that in the war with the coronavirus, there are two advanced lines that are fighting side by side, day and night: those who are in the trenches confronting the enemy, and those who preparing safe trenches for them – meticulously, quickly and responsively, according to the continuously changing needs.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ms. Soma Chakraborty is a healthcare professional with 20 years of expertise in hospital operations, and healthcare strategies.

She has worked in leading private tertiary care Superspecialty hospitals in Kolkata and is now associated with Medica Superspecialty Hospitals for the last eight and half years as Vice President- Facility & Support Services.

She is an active member of ALL (All Ladies League) and Women’s Economic Forum. She is currently President, West Bengal Healthcare Sector Council, Women’s Chamber of Commerce & Industry (WICCI).

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