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Using my international Red Cross experience at home for the COVID-19 response

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By Esmé Lanktree
Since well before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Canadian Red Cross has been present in countries around the world, working with local Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to strengthen their response to natural disasters and health emergencies.

Esmé LanktreeOver my last five years with Canadian Red Cross International Operations, I have been involved in responding to a variety of disasters in different parts of the world, from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, to the population movement in Bangladesh, to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

However, with the arrival of COVID-19, 2020 has become an unprecedented year and has led to a shift in our work from an international to a more domestic focus.

For me, this offered an opportunity to apply learnings from global responses to the challenges now being faced in Canada. This has meant supporting responses in Canada — from Trenton, Ontario, to distance support, to designated quarantine sites in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Québec — and most recently, a deployment to my hometown of Montreal.

In February, I was in Nepal as part of my regular work as Red Cross Health Advisor. As the situation evolved quickly, I was called upon for COVID-19 advice, and upon returning to Canada, I worked from home to support colleagues in Japan assisting hospitalized Canadians.

At the request of  the  Public  Health  Agency  of  Canada,  the Canadian Red Cross supported returning travellers at designated  quarantine  sites  by  providing  care  and  comfort services, first in Trenton and Cornwall, then at four sites across the country. I worked with dedicated staff and volunteers while in Trenton, who worked tirelessly to make the stay for those in quarantine as comfortable as possible. My  role was to ensure staff and volunteers had a safe work environment through infection prevention and control practices. 

Esmé Lanktree in teaching using video.As this response ended and I shifted to health support for designated quarantine sites, I used technology to optimize team management remotely and to ensure all health advisors had the personal protective equipment training and orientation required to work safely in these facilities.

In early April, my role evolved once again to fill a new need in the COVID-19 response. The long-term care facilities (Centres d’hébergement et de soins de longue durée, or CHSLDs) in Montreal requested additional support. We developed an Epidemic Prevention and Control package of services and, by the end of the week, I was part of an advanced team starting work in the CHSLDs to enhance infection prevention and control (IPC) measures. The team has since grown and taken on a larger mandate.

At pre-identified sites prioritized by local health authorities, our teams conduct a rapid assessment and propose recommendations to  improve  the  IPC  measures.  These are meant to be practical solutions and include quick actions that  can  be carried out within a short time frame. The teams then implement the recommendations, in collaboration and with the support of the CHSLD management. This can range from designing red, green, and yellow zones; ensuring they are well delimited and the instructions are clear; organizing donning and doffing stations; and training trainers on IPC measures, to ensure continuity after the departure of the Red Cross teams.

We work with a dedicated group of experts with different health backgrounds, including many international medical graduates who have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in epidemic prevention and control.

A common thread throughout these past months is the incredible work of dedicated people, who work tirelessly to help their communities. This includes Red Cross volunteers and staff, and the inspiring teams of nurses, doctors, public health specialists, administrators, support services, food service, and cleaning personnel whom we work alongside.

COVID-19 has challenged us to find new ways to adapt quickly to emerging priorities, and to use our international experience to assist at home. Lessons learned from working together with government agencies, provincial and local health authorities will allow greater collaboration and efficiencies in future responses.

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