What we've learned: thoughts from a VON nurse

Article by Jo-Anne Poirier, President and CEO, VON Canada. Originally published on LinkedIn.

With a history that spans more than 120 years of nursing care in Canada, VON has been there to support families and communities through some of the most notable challenges the country has ever faced.

COVID-19 now joins the list of challenges in VON’s history. It has brought with it a level of uncertainty and unimaginable unknowns. However, VON’s commitment to the safety, health and well-being of those we care for remains the same. Our rigorous safety practices are overseen by a team of clinical response experts who ensure we exceed the highest safety standards possible. This includes masking and eye protection for all face-to-face client visits and regular safety auditing of our staff, among many other precautions. 

On the front lines of the pandemic, VON employees are helping to ensure that safe care can be delivered at home which, as the pandemic has shown, is one of the safest places for people to receive the health care they need. As we see COVID-19 cases rising across Canada, we see immense opportunity for more health care to be delivered at home, where people want to be.

Home and community care services have the potential to contribute to a modern healthcare system by delivering quality clinical care at home like wound care, post-operative care, pain management, cardiac rehabilitation, pediatric care, and many others. Care that is delivered at home and in the community can ease and facilitate smooth hospital discharges and can help manage chronic conditions, and we are ready to do this safely.

VON has been listening to our front-line employees who experience the realities of infection prevention and control and care delivery in the home and community setting, every day. It’s important for us to apply learnings where we can to continue delivering essential care that eases the strain on caregivers, while keeping people safe at home.

I’m very proud of the team at VON for all they do, especially in the face of COVID-19. It is my privilege to lend this forum to VON front-line nurse, Cheryl Dass. Her perspective is an important reminder of how things have changed for us, and what to keep in mind for the future.

From Cheryl Dass, Registered Nurse with VON:

Importance of Safety Practices

Having been a VON nurse for almost five years, I have seen first-hand how important home care can be to a client’s health. On any given day, I visit between 10 and 12 clients in their homes, and I love being able to provide professional nursing care in their home environments. The pandemic has highlighted just how beneficial it is to be able to meet the healthcare needs of some of our most vulnerable populations in the safety and comfort of their homes.

Throughout the pandemic, I have been screening all clients diligently over the phone, prior to my visits. In addition, VON also ensures staff self-screen before and throughout each shift. I continue to wear routine PPE, even for clients who screened negative and I am mindful of limiting my exposure in my personal life for the safety of my clients, loved ones and myself.

I feel it will be critical for VON to continue carrying these practices into a second wave, while empowering clients to take charge of their care in their own homes. Equipped with learnings and best practices from the initial wave, we must continue providing our clients with the tools and knowledge for them to be able to safely and competently provide self-care when possible. Through efforts like this we can reinforce the importance and impact of home care.

Importance of Adaptability

Over the years, I have seen VON adapt within Canada’s evolving healthcare landscape – just like we did during the first wave of the virus. As employees, we receive frequent communication from VON’s clinical and executive leaders on how VON is adapting care practices based on public health and ministry directives. This has helped me feel confident that everything I’m doing is based on current information, helping me make the best possible care decisions for my clients.

We have also been doing our very best to deliver the facts and a sense of calm in an otherwise turbulent storm. Our clients have been endlessly grateful to have us show up and meet their care needs, which some initially felt would be threatened due to the pandemic. During a time of strict isolation and community shutdown, community care nurses have become a hub for accurate and credible information pertaining to COVID-19 precautions and what was still considered safe. In my experience, supportive de-escalation techniques to quell anxieties have regularly come in handy, as well as a little bit of extra time to chat through any issues.

Importance of Connection and Community

What I love about my role in home care is how it enables you to connect with your clients on a deep and more holistic level than some other healthcare settings. The global pandemic has shown me just how important this level of connection and community is to people.

It has been inspiring to see how my colleagues from other programs at VON have also managed to find ways to keep their clients feeling connected and engaged with the wider community. Whether that’s through the expanded meal programs across the province, or Adult Day and respite programs moving to virtual formats – our entire home and community care team has remained committed to the healthcare journey of others, while supporting one another in new ways.

For me, to successfully overcome a second wave, we will need to preserve that sense of community and togetherness in all aspects of health care. I look forward to continuing to provide care and support in the community and enhancing the level of trust and confidence in our team, putting client well-being at the forefront.