Conveying COVID-19 prevention measures has been a challenge for nurses working in mental health units.
“In these areas, you have patients who have lost touch with reality,” said Bhavik Patel, a Practical Nursing faculty member at Loyalist College. “It’s difficult for them to stay in their rooms, to self-isolate, or incorporate practices such as proper hand washing, coughing into their elbow and standing six feet apart. What may be routine for many is a constant struggle for others.”
Child and adolescent mental health have been the focus of Patel’s nursing career for nearly 20 years. From 2001 to 2013, he was the Team Leader for Child and Adolescent Mental Health at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto and was also part of the Mental Health Unit at Humber River Hospital. In addition to teaching the next generation of practical nurses at Loyalist, he works as a Registered Nurse in the mental health unit at Belleville General Hospital (BGH).
“In the past, we used to be able to freely walk onto the floor and into a patient’s room,” he said. “Now, we’re entering the hospital through the back entrance, which is a big change. The added layer of personal protective equipment is also a communication barrier and can make the patients a little uncomfortable.”
Patel’s patients are primarily at BGH for mental health reasons and the pandemic has altered the way he and his colleagues provide care. They interact with every patient as if they could be positive for COVID-19.
“That’s the way I have to work it, because I have a family and I definitely don’t want to bring anything back home,” he said. “It has changed the way I nurse, the way I end my shift and how I come home. I’m constantly sanitizing everything I touch to protect my loved ones. It’s what nurses on the front line have to do to keep our communities safe.”
Looking ahead, Patel anticipates an increased need for mental health supports due to the pandemic.
“We’re hearing about more cases of substance abuse or substance induced psychosis,” he said. “It’s been reported that domestic abuse has gone up. Do I fear that the mental health unit will be full and that there’s going to be a huge need for mental health services? I do, because I can see it in myself. I can feel it in myself when I’m in the house for too long. The need for support is going to increase as this goes on. People are struggling.”
Many of the nurses in the Bay of Quinte region who have stepped forward to fight COVID-19 are Patel’s colleagues and former students.
“My Loyalist coworkers were nurses before they became faculty members in the Practical Nursing program,” he said. “We all have our own areas of expertise and are contributing to putting a stop to COVID-19 in our own way. We’re living through history right now and we’re extremely proud of how our graduates push past their fears to do what needs to be done for the health and well-being of others.”