Nurses from across BC Children's Hospital and BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre have been staffing the PHSA COVID-19 Resource Line and diligently and compassionately providing support and resources to PHSA workers across the province.
Between March 20 and May 7, they answered 1,471 calls to the resource line, with calls numbering up to 140 per day during the first two weeks.
Plans for the resource line came together very quickly in mid-March. PHSA Workplace Health and Safety, specifically the occupational health nurses, were swamped with inquiries from staff about COVID-19. Cheryl Davies, chief operating officer for BC Women's, Patti Byron, senior director, operational readiness & site integration, BC Children's and BC Women's, and Patrick Whalen, director, Workplace Health and Safety, realized the need and moved quickly to create a service to support all of PHSA, using nurses redeployed from across BC Children's and BC Women's.
On March 18, the Learning Commons on the 4th floor of the Shaughnessy building was secured as the physical site for the resource line, and within 48 hours the resource line was live and taking its first calls. Workplace Health and Safety occupational health nurses provided on-the-job training, and nurses working the first day came back and trained the next day's shift.
The first couple of weeks were intense with a very steep learning curve. According to Lana Sullivan, manager for the resource line, "People working the phones had to learn workplace health and safety guidelines for COVID-19, provide advice in a constantly changing environment, communicate with people experiencing stress and anxiety, and learn new technology. And then they had to log everything for the next crew and train them."
The nurses demonstrated incredible resiliency, adaptability, resourcefulness and creativity. They dealt with the stress of tough calls by relying on each other. Some calls involved complex situations, or anxious callers. Nurses would need to put the callers on hold, or offer to call them back, in order to get support from each other, and problem solve together before replying.
One nurse, Christianne Messier, referred to the team as family. "We've come to trust each other, we listen, we go to each other for guidance, and we come together on a regular basis to have a safe place to talk and vent.
And another, Nancy Yp, noted, "We don't judge and are here for each other. We help each other personally and professionally. There's just a real trust here."
In addition to supporting each other, resource line staff also have weekly huddles with a psychologist to debrief and work through feelings, and twice weekly mentoring huddles with the occupational health nurse team.
"All the way through we've had tremendous support - from mental health support, to the beautiful space we have in the Learning Commons, the extra phone lines that were so quickly installed, schedulers, unit managers, program managers - you name it – always we were greatly supported by everyone. Regardless of how difficult the day went, it really felt like we were a team who were all in this together," said Lana.
When asked what one bright spot in all this was, Nancy commented, "I feel really lucky to be able to come here with such great coworkers. It's pretty scary what we are doing, what we are hearing about, but also I feel very fortunate and honoured that people calling in are willing to share their personal information, that they want to talk to a nurse, and that they trust us."
As the volume of calls decrease and hospitals transition back to regular work, BC Children's and BC Women's nurses will return to their regular jobs and the resource line will continue to be supported, on a smaller scale, by the Workplace Health and Safety occupational health nurses from their office. Friday May 22 will be the last day of the call centre at BC Children's and BC Women's, before the Workplace Health and Safety team takes over.
If you have any workplace health-related questions, call the COVID-19 staff resource line at 1-833-875-2155 (toll free) or 604-875-2155.