From internal lockdowns to compulsory reporting of fatigue, stretched facilities are innovating to cope
Standby buffer staff, internal lockdowns, workplace “buddy systems”, compulsory reporting of fatigue, and workshops to cope with mental and emotional exhaustion — these are among the few changes that have been introduced to the healthcare landscape to help COVID-19 health warriors stay fighting fit in the ongoing pandemic.
Healthcare facilities admit that the pandemic has tested and stretched their resources, and the path is riddled with uncertainty and ever-changing living guidelines. India lost over a thousand critical care health workers during the second COVID-19 wave in 2020.
“The situation is fluid. There are no specific blueprints for the healthcare sector, and worse, we are as much part of the solution and [also the] victims, but we are learning,” said Rajiv Goyal, vice president, operations, QRG Super Speciality Hospital, Faridabad. He added that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
His hospital brought in slew of measures, including a buddy system which allows professionals at work to check on each others’ welfare, report any fatigue-related event to the management to help prevent injuries and errors, avoid scheduling staff for more than 12 hours if possible, provide alternative transportation to and from work, mandatory paid rest time, and clear communications.
Several hospitals said they had enhanced their staff strength following the devastation during the second COVID-19 wave in which many healthcare workers were also adversely affected. Sugandh Ahluwalia, chief of strategy, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, said that they currently did not have staff shortages as they had increased staff strength during the second wave of the pandemic.
Hospitals are also following an internal lockdown system to keep cross infections to the minimum. Aashish Chaudhary, managing dircetor, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, said that to prevent any spread of infection, internal lockdowns had been brought in. “Hospital staff are not permitted to visit any department other than their own. Staff members go straight home without stopping to speak with anyone from other departments. Every employee has his or her own card restricting their movement to their department only, preventing cross-infection,’’ he explained.
Dr. Ashutosh Shukla, senior director-internal medicine and medical advisor, Max Hospital, Gurgaon noted that, currently, the number of healthcare workers falling sick is not very high, at around 7-8%. “In case of need, staff from non-critical specialties are being trained on the job and re-deployed for the care of admitted COVID-19 patients,” he said.
Hospitals added that the current wave is witnessing milder infections. Early trends indicate that most of the people getting infected are co-morbid and not fully vaccinated.
Hospitals are also allowing only a restricted the number of attendants with a patient, while educating all to follow COVID-19 appropriate protocol.
“Doctors and nurses are used to long working hours. Their training has steeled them to take up this enhanced workload, physical as well mental,” said Bishnu Panigrahi, group head, medical strategy and operations, Fortis Healthcare.