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Coronavirus: The First 100 Days at Children’s Hospital

As Featured in the London Free Press

In the first 100 days of the global COIVD-19 pandemic, Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) underwent a rapid transformation.

Three hospital administrators took time to reflect on these early days.

Deborah Wiseman and Emily Williams, Directors of Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Rod Lim, Medical Director of the Paediatric Emergency Department, say the level of professionalism and commitment staff have displayed throughout the pandemic continues to inspire them.

“We really were at the frontlines at a time when everyone was retreating,” recalls Dr. Lim. “Despite that, we never lost our team attitude and that desire to provide the best care we can for our patients and their families.”

Serving western Ontario, Children’s Hospital cares for more than 49,000 sick children and youth each year. The hospital is located within LHSC’s Victoria Hospital.Stand by Teaghan

While paediatrics has not experienced the same surge in COVID-19 cases that the adult side has, the virus has complicated care for other serious health issues.

“We required innovation at a speed with which we’ve never seen before,” says Wiseman.

Leadership moved quickly to ensure entrance screening was established to limit the spread of COVID-19. Staff donned full personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves, and temporary walls were erected to separate patient beds in the Emergency Department.

The physical changes were significant, but what kept medical professionals on their toes were the quickly-evolving protocols intended to protect the health and safety of staff, physicians and families.

With new directives, recommendations and guidance emerging from the government, safety protocols could change multiple times during a shift.

Perhaps the most challenging aspects for paediatric care has been the visitor restrictions. Following early recommendations from the Ministry of Health, Children’s Hospital implemented changes to its visitor policy that allowed only one caregiver to be at the bedside per 24 hours.

Stand By AndieThe restriction, which has since been eased, caused significant stress and pressure on families.

Parents no longer had a partner to relieve them from long days at their child’s bedside and medical decisions became harder to make.

Recognizing the tremendous impact this was having on patients and families, staff went above and beyond to provide additional comfort and support.

They helped divided families connect virtually, brought meals to parents who were weary from long stretches at the bedside and, most importantly, they offered a shoulder to lean on – all while continuing to deliver exceptional care.

As play spaces in the hospital had to be temporarily closed, staff drew on their creativity to ensure their patients could continue to enjoy moments of fun and laughter.

They introduced virtual play programming and ramped up efforts to bring games and crafts to the bedside.

When a child who wasn’t faring well asked to see princesses, staff didn’t hesitate to setup a virtual princess party.

“We wanted our patients and families who left Children’s Hospital to remember the excellent care and support they received, and not any fear or anxiety that may have accompanied their visit in the midst of a global pandemic,” says Wiseman.

As fear around COVID-19 grew in Canada, Children’s Hospital staff and physicians began to notice that community members were hesitant to seek care from the Emergency Department, not knowing if it would be safe to bring their child.

“Children were having severe consequences from diseases they would have normally presented to us much earlier with,” says Dr. Lim.

The Children’s Hospital Emergency Department responded by bringing the clinic to families – virtually.

Families could attend a video call with a physician who would help determine next steps, such as seeing a primary care provider or coming to the hospital.

The clinic remains open to the community, available seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The compassion, support and ingenuity that staff have demonstrated will continue to be needed in the days ahead.

Williams says she is growing increasingly concerned about the state of child health as the physical distancing measures to protect Canadians from coronavirus remain.

“We don’t have good data. Nobody has done longitudinal studies on the impact of this kind of isolation,” says Williams. “I’m worried we are going to see an explosion of children being identified as at-risk or having medical or mental health complexities.”

To ensure that staff and physicians are ready for whatever comes next, Children’s Hospital relies on community support to deliver the best care possible.

Children’s Health Foundation asks everyone to consider making a donation to its Stand By Me fundraising campaign.

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