Alberta doctor shares experience designing COVID-19 wards at Edmonton hospital

An Edmonton doctor is sharing an example of how the health care system jumped into action when COVID-19 was first on Alberta’s radar.

Dr. Neeja Bakshi is a physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. She currently works on the COVID-19 unit — a space she played an instrumental role in designing.

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“To the [average person] a COVID ward may not look that different,” she explained. “The difference is that now everyone is wearing continuous masking, eye protection and on COVID specific wards, everyone is in isolation.”

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The doctor said they also have a program that identifies a staff member for each shift that ensures proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is being worn and can assist where needed.

“It’s the process that’s different, the way patients are cared for. We need to be able to respond quickly but be able to get our equipment ready and on. It requires a lot of thought to do it in the most effective way.”

Alongside provincial and Alberta Health Services preparation, Bakshi took on a local level of leadership within her role as division lead for internal medicine at the Royal Alex.

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“We knew we had to prepare for the worst,” she said. “Trying to plan for something you know nothing about is very challenging,” she said. “We knew we would be caring for a large number of COVID patients. Those that don’t go to ICU will come to our ward.”

As she and her team watched hospitals in New York and Italy struggle to handle a sudden influx of patients, they began to prepare where to put COVID-19 patients and how to continue regular care.

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“We know even when we get COVID positive patients, none of the other illnesses were going to stop,” Bakshi explained. “Any additional COVID wards or teams would be additional workforce we had to account for.”

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Bakshi said they also worked to manage the fear and burnout of staff.

“I felt a personal responsibility to my group. It’s a privilege to do it, it’s an honour to do it…but how do we do it safely?” she explained. “Then, in a COVID ward you are spending a significantly higher amount of time in a room, so you need more breaks and more reprieve.”

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The doctor said she has been impressed with the dedication of staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

“Every single team member has said, ‘Let me know where you need me, what I can do. I want to help. I am ready, I am willing,’” Bakshi said. “My team has been fantastic about putting up with my Sunday night text messages. I’ll say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this tomorrow, sorry for changing it again.’”

Bakshi said she knows there’s also a team outside of the hospital, working hard to help.

“Now knowing what we know to go through the next phase, if there is a next phase, we have to continue to rely on public support.”


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