By Christy Janssens

Yanira Polanco’s mother, Yanira Rosa Gevara de Casco, was in the hospital for nine weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. Two of those weeks were in a new rehabilitation unit reserved for patients who have the virus at Providence Healthcare.

Gevara de Casco’s first language is Spanish, so her team took time to explain things and ensure she understood everything before moving on. When they found parts of her hair were matted from long periods in bed, a nurse combed Gevara de Casco’s hair. When she had trouble swallowing, her health-care team at Providence tried to find different soft foods she would like. At every meal, she had a variety of soft options on her plate.

Yanira Rosa Gevara de Casco on the day she arrived home from Providence's COVID rehabilitation unit.
Yanira Rosa Gevara de Casco on the day she arrived home from Providence’s COVID rehabilitation unit.

“Her being hospitalized for so many weeks was nerve-wracking,” said Polanco. “Not being able to see her was very difficult. But the staff at Providence were just outstanding. They were very kind and accommodating. We would call every day and receive reports on how she was doing. We felt supported from day one.”

Shawn Brady, Senior Clinical Program Director of Rehabilitation, Complex Continuing Care and Palliative Care at Providence, said early in the pandemic, Providence identified the need for a unit to serve COVID-19 patients who needed rehabilitation.

The ten-bed unit has a separate entrance, a separate staff area for documentation and personal protective equipment (PPE) storage, and a clustered care approach. This means, for example, if a therapist were to enter a patient’s room for treatment, they would first consult with a nurse to check if there was anything else they needed to tell the patient or bring into the room. This way, information or small tasks are consolidated to create less traffic in a room and to conserve PPE.

The unit works because during the design period, staff were consulted and their concerns were addressed.

“We were proactive and identified the need early so we could properly plan,” said Brady. “That enabled us to do dry simulation runs with the team before the first patients arrived so we were well prepared.”

As a unique model for rehabilitating patients who have tested positive for the virus, this new unit has garnered attention from health-care facilities in Vancouver and Alberta expressing interest in replicating Providence’s success. There are only three other COVID rehabilitation units in the country, says Brady.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to deliberately take COVID positive patients for rehabilitation,” said Brady. “But we recognized that in order to live our values at Unity, we needed to develop a way to provide rehab care to these individuals. Many have been on a very long trajectory of illness with COVID, and many are quite ill on ventilators. We needed to provide them with a safe space to rehabilitate and a safe discharge home.”

Polanco appreciated the clear instruction that Providence provided when her mother was discharged, including information about diet, exercise, therapy, and assistive devices we would need.

“It is an emotional roller coaster not to be there for your loved ones or to advocate for them,” Polanco said.

“The team at Providence understood that. Nobody made us feel like we were calling too much or we were getting in the way. Everyone was very, very supportive. I think that’s what makes a difference when you’re not able to be there. We are very grateful.”