11 tips for handling a COVID-19 patient surge at your healthcare system

COVID-19 vaccine inoculations have started in most countries and while it looks like good progress, the fact is the virus is evolving in ways healthcare professionals and researchers are still wary of. While we are far from the days when there was a shortage of masks for healthcare workers, the fact is the world is still in the middle of a pandemic and it’s best to stay prepared. Here are some ways you can be well prepared in case of a COVID-19 patient surge at your organization.

  1. Protect your healthcare staff

    Your healthcare staff is your biggest support system and so it is imperative that they are protected. It is important to make sure they are vaccinated to ensure the health and safety of your healthcare system. If you have enough staff, then separate staff that cares for infected patients from staff that cares for non-infected patients.

  2. Prepare to prevent staffing crisis
    Being organized is to be prepared. Use and organize a reliable database and constantly update it for even the smallest of changes. Cross-training your staff is also a good way to ensure more people can be allocated in multiple areas in case of a surge. Surge models usually demand minimal staffing requirements and cross-training will greatly benefit your organization.

  3. Be cognizant of staff’s mental health
    Health care workers’ mental health has been gravely affected by the pandemic. Mask fatigue, working long hours in the pandemic, fear of infecting their family, the list of reasons for healthcare workers’ poor mental health is long. Supporting them is essential. According to a survey, almost half of health care workers have considered leaving their jobs because of the stress and anxiety they have been facing since the pandemic.

  4. Have Strategies for supply chain issues
    Supply chains across the world have normalized since the beginning of the pandemic. But it’s best to be prepared and learn from the early days of the pandemic when healthcare workers were forced to reuse one-time use masks and were running short on PPE kits. Take stock of the available equipment, plan for how the equipment will be used in case of an emergency. Having a plan in hand makes things smoother for everyone.

  5. Prepare to open surge beds in non-traditional areas
    Identify areas that can be used to fill with beds for patients to receive care. In this case, you have to be prepared in multiple ways. Addressing patients’ concerns who believe they are receiving a lower level of care because of an unusual bed system, allocating equipment effectively. Have a plan ready with costs, optics and plans and procedures in place.

  6. Clear communication is key
    Streamline internal and external communication agreements. Such situations often lead to chaos and panic so it is important to emphasize the primary source for information in your organization. It might be apt to set social media protocol for your staff as well to prevent any information from being presented inaccurately.

  7. Mathematical modeling
    This study suggests mathematical modeling to prepare for surge capacity. This will include trying to predict a best, worse and most likely scenario to be prepared for every eventuality. The organization can also keep collecting data while going through a surge to be better prepared the next time and maybe be able to predict the next surge as well.

  8. Telehealth is your friend
    There has been a 154% increase in the use of telehealth services since February 2020. Organizations can sign up with telehealth support systems to reduce load, reduce the chance of infections and will help your organization cope better in case of a surge.

  9. Limit room entry for patients
    The most important thing to take care of in a surge is reducing the spread of infection within the centre. The first step to achieving this is by limiting the number of people accompanying a patient. In a crisis situation, a patient should come alone and not be allowed visitation to minimize exposure. They can interact with their loved ones through a digital device.

  10. Cancel non-essential procedures and visits
    Most hospitals were directed to stop non-essential surgeries as recent as last month. The reasoning behind this is simple; to ensure equipment, bed and staff availability for those infected with COVID-19. While some people are uncomfortable visiting hospitals, informing your current patients in advance that their procedures stand cancelled will also save you time.

  11. Make ethical decisions about who get health resources
    It is vital to think about the value of maximizing benefits. When there are limited resources, it is important to take ethical steps to decide their accessibility. Saving lives and more years of life is the general consensus among health care practitioners. In a pandemic, the most important thing is to maximize your benefits by saving as many lives as possible.