Nova Scotia·Q&A

'We're just at the start of this': N.S. respiratory therapist discusses COVID-19 care

A Nova Scotia respiratory therapist says she and her health-care colleagues are paying close attention to the number of COVID-19 cases being treated in hospital and whether there will be enough staff to care for the patients if the numbers spike.

Alana Spicer has more than 20 years of experience as a respiratory therapist

The federal government is teaming up with a handful of Canadian companies to produce up to 30,000 ventilators. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

A Nova Scotia respiratory therapist says she and her health-care colleagues are paying close attention to the number of COVID-19 cases being treated in hospital and whether there will be enough staff to care for the patients if the numbers spike.

Alana Spicer works for the IWK Health Centre in Halifax and has worked as part of the crew for LifeFlight.

She appeared on CBC's Mainstreet on Wednesday. Some of these questions have been edited for clarity and length.

How many people does it take to look after one patient on a ventilator?

A patient that's requiring intensive care, those are intensive patients and have a high workload and a large team that's responsible for these patients. So you're looking at the physician that's directing all of the care for this patient and also responsible for all of the patients in the unit. Then you have the bedside nurse assigned to that patient, then you have a charge nurse that's helping out all the other nurses with their patients, a respiratory therapist, other members of interprofessional health: pharmacists, nutritionists, physiotherapists. It really is a collaborative approach. It's all of these people that are coming together with their expertise managing these exceptionally ill patients.

Do you think the ventilators are going to arrive at a rate that there are going to be enough people around who are capable of using them?

I think that's the question everyone has. We've seen this overseas, we've seen it in Europe, we've seen it in other parts of the country and now it's finally starting to come to us. I know most of my co-workers and myself are anxious every day we hear the premier and [chief medical officer of health] Dr. [Robert] Strang talk about the number of cases rising. We always look to see how many of those cases are being managed in hospital and out of those, how many are requiring intensive care. Those are the numbers we're paying close attention to.

The whole idea behind this flattening the curve is we don't want to exhaust all our resources. Right now, we have ample beds, ample people to take care of these sick people, ventilators, this whole team. But if we spike too quickly and we have too many people who are critically ill at the same time, then the worry is, do we have enough to look after these people?

What do you think when you see photos of people gathering at places like the beach or being close together in line to get into a big box store?

I feel the frustration and I know my colleagues feel the frustration. You know, everyone's sacrificing, the weather's starting to get nicer, we all want to be outside. But we realize this amount of pain that we feel now is going to be worth it later. You really have to not just think about yourselves, but think about your families, your parents, your grandparents — that's who we're protecting. I think it's reckless of people to not respect the boundaries that have been put out and continually go against them.

People in your line of work are waiting for this storm. And we have been told that we're still maybe not on the front edge of it. What are you thinking when you look to places like Ontario, Quebec?

We want to collaborate with our colleagues across the country and around the world. They're at different stages of this illness than we are. We're at the very beginning. I think it's a huge world health collaboration because no one really knows how this is all going to play out. We might be a bit fortunate in the Maritimes and in Nova Scotia where we're just at the start of this.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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