How our CIUSSS’s “SWAT team” helps protect vulnerable seniors from COVID-19

Members of the COVID-19 SWAT team meet online for one of their regular sessions. Top row, from left: Diane Brault, Marcelo Busignani, Fanny Bourgeois. Middle row, from left: Manon Labine, Julie Dwyer, Brenda Lecouteur. Bottom row, from left: Chantal Bellerose, Kathryn Verville- Provencher, Habiba Boutaleb
Members of the COVID-19 SWAT team meet online for one of their regular sessions. Top row, from left: Diane Brault, Marcelo Busignani, Fanny Bourgeois. Middle row, from left: Manon Labine, Julie Dwyer, Brenda Lecouteur. Bottom row, from left: Chantal Bellerose, Kathryn Verville- Provencher, Habiba Boutaleb

They’ve quick, they’re agile, and they move in swiftly to avert a crisis. No wonder they’re known as the COVID-19 SWAT team.

Since the start of the pandemic, a multi-disciplinary team from our CIUSSS has been working behind the scenes to tackle one of the most significant threats posed by the coronavirus: outbreaks in senior citizens’ residences.

Meeting several days a week, managers from Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC), the Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors (SAPA), and the Quality, Innovation, Evaluation, Performance and Ethics Directorate (DQIEPE) are joining forces to prevent coronavirus outbreaks and to mobilize if one occurs.

They act quickly and strategically—which is why they have taken to calling themselves the SWAT team.

“As soon as there’s an outbreak, we are often there the same day. We’re really efficient,”

says Luc Méthot, Interim Associate Director of the Support Program for SAPA. “You can measure our success by the speed of our interventions.”

The team targets the 29 private seniors’ homes in the area served by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal; the homes are known as RPAs, for Résidences privées pour aînés. In addition, the team is responsible for the area’s 16 religious congregations.

Its effectiveness relies on people like Kathryn Verville-Provencher, a Nurse with IPAC who is based at the Jewish General Hospital. One day this fall, she was alerted to the case of a woman at a private residence who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Ms. Verville-Provencher evaluated the situation and headed to the residence within hours, along with a representative of Montreal’s regional Public Health Department.

“For us, it was go,” Ms. Verville-Provencher recalls.

Sitting down with the residence’s operator and the manager for health services, Ms. Verville-Provencher pored through a checklist. Who were the infected woman’s closest contacts inside the home? Did she play cards with anyone? Did she receive care from any outside caregivers?

Ms. Verville-Provencher addressed measures to contain the virus. Would the woman’s sheets and towels be laundered separately from those of other residents? Were dishes and food trays thrown out?

The resident’s closest contacts in the home were also tested for the virus, and three came back positive. At that point, the entire home was screened for COVID-19.

Ultimately, the worst was averted: the number of infections at the home, which has hundreds of residents, was limited to six.

“We managed to contain the damages,” Ms. Verville-Provencher says. “We really are a tactical team.”

The group began laying the groundwork for its operations as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began. It created partnerships with operators of private residences by offering health and safety advice and establishing a link of trust. Those connections prove vital in the event of an outbreak.

Diane Brault, Assistant to the Director of Nursing for our CIUSSS, points out that the RPAs represented an entirely new field of responsibility for her team in Infection Prevention and Control. However, employees embraced their additional roles. “It’s the great strength of team: They’re extremely agile,” she says.

Another strength comes from uniting various departments of our CIUSSS into what the team calls a central “command centre,” which meets regularly online. Aside from the core group, other CIUSSS partners take part on an ad-hoc basis, including Human Resources, Public Health, and Frontline Integrated Services.

“It’s a winning formula,” says Chantal Bellerose, Assistant to the Director of DQIEPE, whose responsibilities include certification of private residences. “We joined forces and combined our areas of expertise to offer the best support possible to residence operators – and, ultimately, to the senior population in our area.”

Stefania Iapaolo, one of the Quality Advisors for the DQIEPE, answers a dedicated phone line and group emails, ensuring the flow of documents and information among all the partners. “We even have bi-weekly virtual meetings with all residence operators,’’ she says.

That spirit of cooperation may be a key to the CIUSSS’s success in fighting the coronavirus among vulnerable seniors. “There’s a collaborative effort,” Mr. Méthot says, “that is really exceptional.”

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