In commemoration of World Patient Safety Day, The Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) recognized that healthcare worker protection has been integral to ensuring patient safety during the pandemic.
In keeping with the trajectory of this year, the theme for World Patient Safety Day was “Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety.” Healthcare institutions internationally focused on the interlinkage between healthcare worker safety and patient safety and discussed initiatives used to protect frontline workers world over.
“Sri Lanka has had one of the most successful COVID-19 responses in the world, with only 236 active cases as of 16 September 2020. The key to this resounding success was keeping the men and women in the frontlines of this crisis safe,” said APHNH President Dr. Lakith Peiris.
“Going forward, I would like to see greater investment in the well-being of our medical staff. The role they play in this economy and to society has been largely overlooked.”
During the ongoing pandemic, health workers faced the most significant threat through increased exposure. Globally, it is reported that 55% of COVID-19 related healthcare worker deaths were of doctors and physicians, particularly primary care physicians (American Board of Family Medicine, 2020). In recognizing that front-line health workers faced the greatest risk, Dr. Peiris affirmed that the association and its members made it a priority to follow COVID-19 precautions and operational guidelines.
The World Health Organization (WHO) operational guidelines for maintaining essential health services during COVID-19 stated that countries have to comply with the highest standard of precautions. At a fundamental level, this included frequent sterilization, strict protocols for the donning and doffing of PPE, and the self-isolation of HCW to ensure their safety.
Subsequently in Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Health directives laid out stringent regulations that APHNH member hospitals and nursing homes abided by. In addition to WHO hygiene practices, hospitals made it a priority to triage and isolate patients and visitors. Additionally, APHNH member hospitals and nursing homes proactively added precautionary measures as necessary. Notably, in most hospitals, daily internal sanitation audits were conducted, and batch rotation was introduced to minimize the risk of exposure.
Beyond these foundations, APHNH hospitals recognized that a concerted effort to keep health workers safe would also have to include medical process reengineering. To keep doctors and physicians safe, non-emergency surgeries were only performed if the patient had tested negative for COVID-19. Additionally, clinical practices like emergency intubations were carried out in isolated areas, and advanced ultraviolet air sterilization was introduced to ensure that nurses and doctors would not be in immediate danger. APHNH recognizes that these additional precautionary measures practices helped minimize the exposure of their health workers to the Coronavirus.
“Our strict and thorough precautions were a testament to our commitment to protecting employees and patients, which, so far, we have done successfully. The pandemic, if nothing else, drove innovation in the health sector,” said Dr. Lakith Peiris.
“The best defense against any outbreak is a healthy medical workforce. We need to keep investing in health worker safety, and the lessons we learned will be useful if there is ever another crisis of this nature. Keeping our healthcare workers safe is the least we can do after the enormous sacrifices they have made for our country.”
Established in 1972, the APHNH represents all the country’s private hospitals and nursing homes. According to official statistics from the Institute for Health Policy, the private healthcare sector accounts for Rs. 193 billion in expenditure on medical goods and services, which amounts to nearly 55% of the country’s total healthcare cost. As the leading representative of this industry, the association plays a vital role in uplifting healthcare standards and building a healthier country. Through its representation in the Private Health Services Regulatory Council (PHSRC), APHNH plays an important role in the regulation of the country’s private health sector. Over the recent past, its efforts have also included facilitating skills development among healthcare workers, conducting courses for nurses to enhance their capability and contributing to the upliftment of healthcare standards in the country in various ways.