Sharing Pandemic Knowledge: Community Health Centres learn together about adapting practices for COVID-19
Published: June 5, 2020
“I think this will leave a lasting impression on us in terms of integrating pandemic preparedness with emergency preparedness as a whole."

Providing low-barrier care in a pandemic

Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, patients and communities in British Columbia have been adjusting to changes in access to health and social services. Community Health Centres (CHCs) are helping to fill the gaps, with interdisciplinary teams using their skills and innovation to adapt quickly and share knowledge.

“On the one hand, this pandemic has pushed our capacity to the limit,” says Piotr Majkowski, who serves on the boards of BCACHC as well as REACH Community Health Centre in Vancouver. “On the other hand, it’s really shown us the strengths in our system as well – our ability to create surge capacity, to shift our everyday attention to this and respond.”

Majkowski is a nursing instructor and researcher at Douglas College. In addition to BCACHC and REACH, he also serves on the boards of the professional colleges of chiropractors and opticians. He is among a group of clinical experts who are sharing their knowledge of health science practice with CHCs across Canada.

How can we support each other?

CHCs operate with a unique model, offering primary care and frontline health services in addition to health promotion and social services. Over the past few months, CHCs in BC have been supporting populations facing complex social and economic challenges, all while managing additional demands on their clinical teams.

“There are a lot of us at Douglas College who are clinical experts with practical experience, and we really want to lend a helping hand. We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do? How can we support what’s happening on the frontlines?’” says Majkowski.

The group decided to pursue a knowledge translation initiative, which resulted in a webinar for Community Health Centres about Infection Control in a community-based clinic. Within a few weeks of the lock-down in March, Valerie Castex, an Infection Control Specialist and Critical Care Nurse, offered a comprehensive overview of the novel coronavirus and measures CHCs can take within their practice to control the spread of infection.

Over 80 participants joined the webinar from CHCs across Canada, with 40 minutes of Q&A with Castex afterward about the particulars of protecting against infection in a CHC setting. The overwhelming interest indicates an appetite for COVID-19 guidance at the community clinic-level. In a survey of BCACHC members, 79% of respondents ranked “access to equipment” among their top three COVID concerns, and “lack of PPE” emerged as a top barrier faced by CHCs providing care for clients during COVID-19. 

A lasting impression

Majkowsi says the knowledge translation group is looking for more opportunities to extend their support to CHCs.

“We want CHCs to tell us about the practice-based questions they have. ‘When is it best to wear what kind of mask?’ or ‘What’s the next best thing when we’ve run out of gowns?’ These are questions that aren’t easy to just look up, so we’re happy to offer that assistance.”

Those who work with CHCs are invited to share their practice questions with the team at Douglas College and help guide the development of tools, as well future webinars for pandemic preparedness.

“In BC, we’re really good about emergency preparedness in general. However, while agencies might have a committee to mobilize in the event of an earthquake or flood, they haven’t considered what would happen in a pandemic,” says Majkowski. “I think this will leave a lasting impression on us in terms of integrating pandemic preparedness with emergency preparedness as a whole.”

As members of BCACHC and its national counterpart, the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres, CHCs are connected to a network of expertise, experience, and shared values. In this time of strained capacity and emerging needs, these relationships can be a foundation for resilience and support.

Please contact us at www.bcachc.org or www.cachc.ca to share your questions with the knowledge translation team at Douglas College.

Take care!