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Ponoka LPN redeployed north to care for residents

On the road to McLennan and recovery for pair of Ponoka sisters

By Melissa Ballantyne

Alberta Health Services

Real collaboration, quick thinking on your feet and unwavering support for one another in dark times.

These are some of the key takeaways Ashlyn Frandsen of Ponoka reflected on as she got ready to make the five-and-a-half-hour drive north to McLennan earlier this month for her second redeployment rotation to lend a helping hand at the COVID-19 stricken Manoir du Lac continuing care facility.

“Six weeks ago, I didn’t exactly know where McLennan was,” said Frandsen.

“Now, I’m looking forward to going back” to the northern Alberta town and its population of about 700.

On April 19, two days after Alberta Health Services (AHS) took over day-to-day operations at Manoir du Lac, Ashlyn and her sister Karianne Frandsen, a Health Care Aide (HCA), answered the call for volunteers to be redeployed to the site.

The redeployment of willing staff is part of AHS’ effort to further improve outbreak control — and to bolster infection prevention and control measures and staffing in response to the site’s COVID-19 outbreak.

A series of concerns around staffing at the private facility, as well as concerns with care standards, necessary COVID-19 screening and PPE rules not being properly followed contributed to AHS’ extraordinary step of assuming operations of the facility, where sadly COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 10 residents. Another 43 residents and 18 staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We live together and have really flexible schedules, so we thought if we can help out somewhere that really needs it, why wouldn’t we?” said Ashlyn.

“We’re also fortunate to be in a place where it’s super easy for us to isolate if we got sick, so we thought, ‘yes … sign us up to help!’”

The sisters were contacted by Human Resources Business Partnerships (HRBP) on April 19 and the next day their car was packed and headed north.

The pair arrived for what they thought would be a four-day stretch, but ended up helping out four days a week over a two-week period.

“We came into the throes of a highly stressful and a very emotional environment,” recalled Ashlyn.

“Residents were scared and confused. Families were constantly calling for updates, asking lots of questions and were really worried about their loved ones.”

Ashlyn pooled her efforts with those of other AHS staff from across the province who had answered the call. Each had their own ideas, processes and suggestions about how to handle the rapidly evolving — and highly emotional — situation they were now in.

“The first day was a bit of madness,” Ashlyn said candidly.

“There was so much to go through and figure out in one orientation shift — from the communication processes, charting and trying to understand what each resident’s normal state or baseline is.

“Someone described it as ‘building the plane as we fly it’ — and I think that’s a perfect description.”

In the days that followed, however, Ashlyn said an extraordinary level of camaraderie grew within the group.

They fine-tuned their structure and flow, and developed communication processes such as journaling reports to ensure anyone reviewing could get a clear understanding of each resident and their personal needs.

“The teamwork has been absolutely amazing,” Ashlyn said.

“Quite literally, strangers came together with the goal of helping the staff and residents at this site, and now, we’re bonded.

“We’re teammates and friends.”

For Janice Stewart, AHS chief zone officer for the central zone, the willingness of staff such as Ashlyn and Karianne to help out in areas hit hard by COVID-19 exemplifies the spirit of healthcare providers.

“There is an incredible sense of compassion and willingness to help others in the face of challenges in AHS — be it fire, flood or pandemic,” said Stewart.

“We’re grateful and we’re proud of the way staff and physicians have put their hand up and said — ‘I’ll help’ — when colleagues have been in need.”

As the Frandsen sisters packed up for their return trip earlier this month, Ashlyn added she was looking forward to seeing the faces of the residents, especially those who were just coming off isolation at the end of her last shift. She was excited to help them get back to a more normal routine and to see how far everything has come.

“Redeployment isn’t for everyone. The location and the people are unfamiliar and there’s so much to learn and to adapt to all at once. But it can be an amazing experience,” she said.

“I’m glad I’ve been able to help.”

Editor’s note: This article is being reprinted with permission and has been updated to reflect where the sisters are from and with dates.