Long hours, mounting stress: behind the curtain of COVID-19 red zone in St. Paul's Hospital
Staff in the downtown Vancouver hospital are feeling the pressure of rising case loads
In the intensive care unit housing COVID-19 patients in St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, health care workers are using an unusual tool to prevent the spread of infection: binoculars.
"We're trying not to go in COVID rooms unless its absolutely necessary," explains Amanda Ow, a respiratory therapist.
Ow says the binoculars come in handy in order to see the small numbers on the breathing machine or the IV pumps.
In B.C. as of Wednesday, there were 338 patients in hospital, and 75 in intensive care. Most of those patients are concentrated in the Lower Mainland.
The ICU at St. Paul's Hospital is divided into zones: yellow for suspected COVID-19 cases and red for confirmed positive patients.
"It's very hard for families. It's very hard for the patients because they're stuck in these rooms, and they just see us with our masks on. [WIth] all the PPE, they don't recognize any of us," Ow said.
Ow's day, like many other health-care workers in the unit, starts with health screens and layers of personal protective equipment.
These lead to long hours and staff scrambling to save space in rooms and preserve valuable PPE as COVID hospitalizations climb.
Christine Sorensen with the B.C. Nurses' Union says nurses are struggling with mental health concerns as the pandemic progresses.
"We do know that a number of nurses are expressing signs of anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, but also moral distress and moving onto PTSD," Sorensen said.
Ow says the pressure on the health-care system is building.
"If things get worse, I don't know how we're going to choose who gets treatment and who doesn't. Obviously we're limited with space, we're limited with equipment."
Until wide distribution of the vaccine can provide an extra buffer to the health-care system, Ow is urging people to continue to follow the public health guidelines.
With files from Jon Hernandez