COVID-19 has impacted on the operations at St Joseph’s. We asked Christelle Cornelius (CEO) about the challenges.
What has the impact of the virus been on St Joseph’s Home?
St Joseph’s is a home where children are in long term care and we sometimes see ourselves as a closed environment. The impact has been on many levels and the reality is that we feel very vulnerable for our children as they need access to 24 hours of nursing care. We had to implement many checks and balances regarding every entrance and exit point at the Home, the childrens nutrition, their physical and mental wellbeing and their transport to hospital visits. Our more than 130 staff members are screened daily, uniforms disinfected and changed on-site, as well as employees supported during their isolation and positive diagnoses. Caring for our staff is crucial for them to be able to care for the children.
What have you done to abide by the rules and regulations of COVID?
We are a nursing lead facility and guided by the Department of Health (DOH) infection control guidelines. At an early stage, we were already thinking about the impact of the virus and what it could mean. Planning meetings regarding scenarios were discussed as part of our preparedness. This initially included infection control in our wards, but as COVID hit our country, awareness escalated. We met with the Department of Health and did a risk assessment for the entire Home. Risk factors were identified, like entrance and exit points, screening of staff, the wearing of masks and the complete restriction of all interns, volunteers and parent visits to St. Joseph’s Facial expressions like smiling, have always been such an important part of all communications and interactions.
Now, living behind a mask, how did this change things here?
A child needs to be able to connect with you and that includes a lot of facial expressions. Initially, our therapists wore visors, instead of masks. Since masks have become compulsory we are guided by our values. How do we engage with one another? We cannot see so much of the facial expression, but what is important is that we still engage respectfully. We respect each other by wearing masks.
Why is the physical contact between a parent and a child so important and how do you mitigate that at St Joseph’s?
Now, with the lockdown parental contact has not been possible. As a mother myself, I cannot imagine going a night without my child, not seeing them and understanding their wellness. Having a place like St Joseph’;s to care for medically fragile children allows parents to feel that they are well supported and in a safe place. It does not ignore the longing between a parent a child. Maintaining contact with parents throughout is reassuring them that we are giving their children loving care. Nurses and staff can only do so much in terms of daily care, but you cannot replace the bond between a parent and a child. So we recognized that this is difficult and have now started to re-integrate parents back into the Home to visit their children. However, we take many precautions in facilitating these visits and parents are debriefed before visits. Until 5 August a total of 22 individual parental visits have been facilitated, while three parents did not meet screening criteria at the entrance. This has been very sad.