As soon as I heard about the field trip to the BCSPCA at Quality Forum 2016, I was intrigued. What could I possibly learn from a visit to an animal rescue shelter that would apply to health care?
The Quality Forum’s program posed two interesting questions: firstly, how do you care for patients who cannot tell you their needs? And secondly, how do you work as a team to deliver care in a constantly changing and hectic environment? I could see the correlation between an animal shelter and health care in the first case, but never considered a shelter as a “constantly-changing and hectic environment”. They take care of animals – how hectic could that be?
“What could I possibly learn from a visit to an animal rescue shelter?”
Well, was I in for a surprise. The day before the field trip we were advised that the shelter was in the middle of an outbreak, on top of being over-crowded due to two recent puppy mill seizures (we were reassured that it was safe to attend as the animals had been treated and were in isolation). We would have to follow precautions and wear personal protective equipment.
I had to pinch myself – was she talking about health care? – outbreak, over-crowed, isolation and precautions! This I had to see for myself. So I decided to stick with my decision to attend.
On the day of the trip, our group was buzzing as we traveled to our destination in a yellow school bus. We were met by Kim, the shelter’s manager, who immediately apologized to us and told us they were in crisis mode due to the two recent seizures. The latest seizure, one of the largest in B.C. history, had been well publicized in the media and involved 66 sick and neglected dogs and puppies. The staff had been working around the clock to address the animals’ serious medical and psychological issues. It was heart wrenching to hear firsthand from the staff involved. The staff did a great job of masking their emotional responses to working day and night dealing with the aftermath of such horrific abuse.
“I had to pinch myself – was she talking about health care?”
The team was up-front in sharing how difficult it was to offer the same care and attention to their animals during a crisis. We asked Kim how she and the team were doing and it was evident, as she held back her tears, that her and her team’s focus was on the immediate care and well-being of the animals.
It struck me how difficult it must be for the staff and what emotional support was offered under these conditions. She assured us that they would be able to debrief and support one another when the crisis was over.
It finally began to dawn on me the significant similarities to health care; it made me wonder what our staff and physicians go through on a daily basis when they deal with patients, clients or residents who have experienced trauma, death, assault, or physical and mental abuse.
“The team shared how difficult it was to offer the same care and attention to their animals during a crisis.”
We joined in on the team’s morning huddle, where they filled each other in on the animals they were caring for, updated their care plans, and discussed standards of care. It was evident that despite being exhausted emotionally and physically, they were passionate, caring and committed to providing the best care possible.
Then the time had finally come to meet the animals. Before we were able to rush out to the kennels, the staff ensured we were diligent about infection control: they provided guidance on hand washing and helped us with donning and doffing the personal protective equipment. We got to pet, hold and watch the animals that the team so dearly loved and cared for.
It appears that no matter what industry you are in, promoting quality and safety is an inherent part of everyone’s job. The relationship between animal shelters and health care stretch far beyond what I had assumed: the need for a strong multi-disciplinary team, early identification of deterioration, continuity of care, effective communication, establishing and following standards of care… the list goes on.
“It appears that no matter what industry you are in, promoting quality and safety is an inherent part of everyone’s job.”
I have always held deep admiration for our health care teams who work on the front lines with patients, residents, and clients every day, and I have gained an equal admiration and respect for the staff, veterinarians, and volunteers who work tirelessly for the BCSPCA.
Thank you Kim and your team, for opening your doors to strangers during a crisis, and for being so informative and transparent about how you care for your animals on a daily basis. This was one of the best sessions that I have had the pleasure to attend.
Catherine O’Donnell has worked in health care since emigrating from Scotland in 2010 and is currently a Quality Improvement Consultant with the Accreditation Team at Fraser Health.