With more than 1.5 million – and counting – COVID-19 cases recorded in the Philippines to date, hospitals in the country have unsurprisingly found themselves pushed to the limit.
From having to manage the sudden influx of infected patients, to ensuring that processes are constantly optimised to handle the pandemic, medical institutions in the Philippines have had to overcome a multitude of challenges in their ongoing fight against the virus.
Naturally, with so much at stake, the pressure on staff and frontliners at hospitals have increased multifold, with many of them also worried about the possibility of contracting the virus and passing it on to their loved ones.
These valid concerns have led to many healthcare workers all over the world to resign, which have in turn led to a shortage of skilled manpower in hospitals.
Prioritising staff welfare during the pandemic
In order to minimise the risk of such a scenario occurring, and to ensure that their employees were able to continue working at their best, the Fe del Mundo Medical Center (FDMMC) in Quezon City decided that the best course of action would be to pay special attention to the welfare of its staff.
After all, the hospital recognised that their staff were one of the most valuable assets they had in the battle against COVID-19, and so were determined to keep them fighting fit for the challenges of the pandemic.
Dr Elsie Lynn Baronia-Locson, Medical Director of FDMMC, shared: “The fear and uncertainty of working at a hospital during the pandemic were taking an emotional toll on staff, both professionally and personally.
“The worry of being infected, and concerns about the health and well-being of family members, were impacting morale and creating anxiety among staff.
“We knew this was a crucial gap that we had to address, as it would otherwise distract our staff or even prevent them from working. So, we decided to provide resources to help reduce the burden and stress on our employees.”
One of the key ways FDMMC helped their staff during this difficult period was to provide them with as much emotional and psychological support as possible. To that end, they tasked both their Human Resources (HR) and psychiatry staff with helping to alleviate anxiety among hospital employees.
In addition, webinars on mental health awareness and related topics were regularly conducted. The hospital also took care of the minutiae of their employees’ well-being – this included assisting staff in accessing transport services to and from the hospital, providing grocery services, as well as offering them lodging and accommodation if needed.
And when vaccinations were available in the Philippines, FDMMC wasted precious little time in securing them for their frontliners and staff – this was to keep them better protected, while also easing their worries somewhat over the virus.
An all-hands-on-deck approach for COVID-19
Other issues faced by FDMMC include strained bed availability, as well as a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and a lack of trained staff who could operate ventilators and treat COVID-19 patients with the highest level of care.
These difficulties were not unique to FDMMC – with COVID-19 as widespread as it is, many other medical institutions in the world are also facing the very same problems.
For Dr Elsie and her colleagues, their strategy was to take a holistic, all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling these issues.
For example, they began training and equipping medical employees from other unrelated departments, such as anaesthesiologists and lab technicians, as well as nurses, with the skills to help patients on ventilators.
FDMCC also formed partnerships with doctors from other hospitals to help out whenever needed.
New processes were also put in place to better manage patient flow and hospital capacity. In order to relieve the pressure on their ER (Emergency Room) department, ambulatory care for patients with less severe symptoms were rolled out. The hospital also began promoting their telehealth services, and even implemented a drive-thru testing service for suspected COVID-19 cases to minimise the risk of cross-infections.
In addition, FDMCC joined initiatives to educate the community about COVID-19 screening procedures, which recommended patients not to enter a hospital unless absolutely necessary.
“Right now, the emphasis should be on saving lives, which it should be, and on making sure that our hospital is not overburdened with patients with COVID-19 — and hopefully, this will be possible and we can move forward with the mass rollout of vaccines,” said Dr Elsie.
She added that several of FDMCC’s strategies to combat the virus were fine-tuned after she attended Hospital Management Asia’s (HMA) online conference last year, which explored in-depth the best ways for medical institutions to cope with COVID-19.
“The topics covered at HMA last year were good references in our fight against the virus,” Dr Elsie said. “This was especially so in terms of setting up telehealth services in the hospital, as well as the tips on how we can support our frontliners, and in particular, our nurses.
“We also learnt that we should be creative and committed in the fight against the virus—the challenges we faced and are going through rely heavily on each other’s commitment and community efforts. So we have to continue learning and continue helping one another.”
Keeping their guard up against COVID-19
While vaccinations are being rolled out in the Philippines, albeit slowly – only 4.4% of the population in the country have been fully vaccinated as of July this year – Dr Elsie warns that it would be unwise for hospitals and the community at large to ease off on COVID-19 measures just yet.
After all, the threat that a new and more infectious or deadly variant of the virus will develop remains a concern of healthcare experts worldwide.
Dr Elsie explained: “Vaccination is just one brick in the wall to keep COVID-19 variants at bay. Testing and tracing strategies should continue as vaccination rollout progresses. Routine and large-scale testing for the virus should be part of the new normal – done faster, more liberally, and extensively in more workplaces, restaurants, shopping malls, and for individuals like educators and taxi drivers, whose jobs involve coming into close contact with many people.
“We must also reduce the transmission of the virus rapidly with suitable public health measures such as good hand hygiene and masking, adequate ventilation, and increasing the percentage of vaccinated persons. As long as there are viruses circulating, there is an opportunity for variants to develop, and we need to remove that opportunity.”
Ultimately, Dr Elsie insists it is important for everyone – from hospitals, to the community, to the government – to make an effort to contain the threat of COVID-19, especially as she believes this fight is still far from over.
“I believe that COVID-19 will stay with us. It will continue to evolve, and we humans will continue to develop defense mechanisms such as vaccines and treatment. The human versus COVID-19 struggle is expected to be dynamic and occasionally volatile with resurgence problems,” Dr Elsie said.
“Of course, I believe in not creating panic, and I think the basic approach should still be precaution. With potential new outbreaks, the preventive measures become even more important.
“It is crucial to remember prevention measures work hand in hand together. No one preventive measure can work alone. Community resilience, where everyone is doing their very best, is key to combating the elusive COVID-19.”
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