As the number of Covid-19 cases surged in April 2020, hospitals had to quickly prepare wards and set up Community Care Facilities (CCF) to care for Covid-19 patients. How did they do this? What exactly goes into the preparation of receiving Covid-19 patients?

Terence Teo from Woodlands Health Campus shares what went on behind the scenes. As an Operations Executive, he oversees daily ward operations and manages patient service associates. When the pandemic hit, he was roped in to help prepare hospital wards in Yishun Community Hospital to house Covid-19 patients.

It was tricky at the beginning. It was all very new, and the team only had a few days to convert their first ward.

“One of the challenges we initially faced during the conversion of wards was to ensure the Covid-19 ward met infection control requirements,” Teo shares. A multi-stakeholder team worked closely with the infection control team when setting up the ward.

Nurses who had previously dealt with SARS and H1N1 also lent their experience to workflow planning, he says.

The teams ran “mini rehearsals” to ensure they had covered all grounds. They did a physical walkthrough to make sure infection control measures were adhered to. “The rehearsal helped because by going through a patient journey, we were able to fix gaps that were missed, including minor issues such as keeping away non-essential items to ensure the area is less cluttered,” he adds.

After the first conversion, the team was able to convert another ward within three days.

But setting up the physical space is just half of the story. Staff needed to be trained on proper measures and procedures to keep to the strictest controls.

Sister Lily Ng, who is Senior Nurse Clinician at Woodlands Health Campus, led a team to set up the halls for the Singapore EXPO CCF with medical facilities. Apart from leading the team to ensure smooth day-to-day operations, she helped to train staff in carrying out nasopharyngeal swabs, emergency management and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

She also guided staff to make important decisions, such as designing the workflow for dispensing medication, and sending potentially unstable patients to hospitals early.

Dealing with sickness is never pleasant, but the pandemic can bring on even more uncertainty and worry. Connecting with her patients emotionally, in spite of physical distancing, remains important for Ng.

“While the pandemic has trained me to be more cautious on infectious control measures when caring for patients who tested positive for the coronavirus, the emotional affection and empathetic approach to patients remains unchanged,” she says.

It takes a village to raise a child, and even more to fight a pandemic. Hospitals wouldn’t have been able to adapt as quickly as they did, if not for the many eager and skilled hands on the ground.

Illustrations by Joy Lim