2020 has really thrown us a curveball. COVID-19 is not only impacting our ability to catch up with friends and share a meal (and hug) with our families, it is significantly changing the lives of nurses and front line healthcare workers - particularly in Victoria right now. Myself, a fellow nurse and mask-wearing Melburnian, is all too familiar with the discomfort of wearing head to toe PPE, all day everyday. It’s hot, sweaty and the mask leaves pressure marks on my face, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m thankful my workplace has given me access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), copious amounts of hand sanitiser and a safe space to enjoy my break to ensure I can continue doing what I love.
For us nurses, this pandemic is scary, intimidating, tiring and relentless. And keeping yourself safe should be your priority. This post explores 7 insightful ways you can keep safe at work whilst pushing through the COVID-19 pandemic. You care so diligently for your patients every day, it’s now time to invest in you!
1.Don’t Rush Donning and Doffing PPE
It’s not a race to see who can put on and take off their PPE as quickly as possible, despite how hot, frustrated and tired you may be. Good hand hygiene and wearing adequate PPE is the thing that is going to save you from getting this nasty virus.
Before COVID, I would be very vigilant with donning my PPE but didn’t take much notice of the order in regards to doffing. Which in hindsight was foolish. When I stop and think about it, doffing is where we are likely to become contaminated. It’s this period where we are most likely to have infected droplets on our PPE that need to be disposed of swiftly, but safely.
The message here is to take your time both during the donning and also the doffing of PPE. Don’t rush. Use the signage that is available to you in order to systematically donn and doff your PPE. Feel empowered to redirect and educate fellow nursing staff seen skipping steps as this can put yourself, other staff and importantly our patients at risk.
Lastly, doing a “buddy check” with a fellow nursing or healthcare worker who is educated in the correct principles of donning and doffing PPE ensures no steps are missed. If you’re in the community or working solo, try using a mirror to ensure you haven’t missed any essentials items of PPE required to do the job safely.
2.Be On High Alert
Everyone is at risk of COVID unless proven otherwise. This is what I tell myself each day. It keeps me vigilant and on-the-ball. Just because a patient may have been categorised as a low risk of COVID, we need to continue to look for symptoms and ask the right questions.
-Have they travelled overseas or even interstate?
-Are they displaying signs and symptoms for the COVID-19 virus despite denying symptoms?
-Are they living with a suspected or confirmed case?
Though patients may be deemed as “low risk,” vigorous hand washing before glove application and the frequent use of alcohol based hand wash is essential to stop the spread as high asymptomatic transmission is the cruel reality of this virus.
3.Assess the Family
Whilst caring for your patient, don’t forget to observe the family. Are they socially distanced from you and the patient? Are they abiding by the hospital’s strict PPE rules for family members? Are they adequately washing their hands? Are they showing signs of COVID and are yet to get tested?
Though you're busy enough, simply being on the lookout for particular behaviours such as not wearing a mask and poor hand hygiene practices may make all the difference.
4.Change Out of Your Uniform / Scrubs
If you’re not already, get into the habit of changing out of your uniform or scrubs before you venture home. Throwing your potentially contaminated uniform directly into a plastic bag and then the washing machine ensures you are not bringing COVID home and into your safe place. Remember to wash your uniform on hot water too, as COVID doesn’t seem to like these higher temperatures.
Though the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) dictates a lot of the rules and regulations for health care organisations relating to COVID, some hospitals, nursing homes and health facilities may do things a little differently.
When entering a workplace, take the time to learn what specific COVID precautions and procedures are now in place and how this alters what you previously did. If something doesn’t feel right, such as inadequate PPE, don’t be afraid to speak up to the management team at that facility or VNS directly.
6.Be Vigilant in the Tea Room
Nurses are used to sharing a space with other nurses during their breaks, generally in close proximity to one another, right? It might be worth reconsidering where you are enjoying your break. When socially distanced, the limited volume of nurses permitted in one spot, such as the tea room, doesn’t allow for too many people.
If you have limited choice, keep track of how long you spent inside a closed space with others for contract tracing purposes or simply go outside if it’s safe to do so.
7.Safety COVID Tip For Community Nurses:
Often, community nurses have little idea what they are walking into. It’s at these times you need to be extra vigilant to ensure your safety and that of your patient.
Here are a few tips:
-Wipe all surfaces with disinfectant or hospital grade wipes, particularly those areas which are high touch such as light switches and door handles.
-Make sure you have adequate PPE when entering a patient / clients home. If you don’t, speak up to your employer. Setting up an area where you plan to doff ensures minimal risk.
-Wash your hands. Constantly. Don’t forget to wash your hands before and after using gloves.
-Can the person you are looking after wear a mask to minimise droplet spread?
-If symptomatic, is the patient / client separated from others in the house? Do they have their own bathroom? Do they share a living space? If you deem the family at risk what strategies can be put in place to minimise exposure?
Bonus COVID Safe Tip:
If you become unwell and are forced to self isolate, do you know about the Australian governments Hotel for Heroes program? It gives frontline healthcare workers, including agency staff, access to free accommodation and meals for the duration of their quarantine period.
Though it can be isolating living alone for a few weeks away from your family / housemates, services such as these can minimise the stress and confusion when you’re suddenly told you need to isolate. To find out more about the Hotel for Heroes program click here.
In summary, keeping safe with COVID at work does take time but the solutions are not unobtainable for most.
Though this post looked at ways we can keep safe at work, remember to also look after yourself once you get home too. Hand cream, face masks, serums and drinking copious amounts of water will help replenish your own stocks so you can continue to give to others.
Best of luck.
Co-Founder The Other Shift