The accreditation process assisted Safehaven in refining its health and safety protocols, enabling the organization to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presently, the Toronto-based organization, which offers residential, respite and recreational programs, remains COVID-free.
Susan Bisaillon, CEO of Safehaven, notes that as the organization was accredited by Accreditation Canada (AC) in June 2018, they were provided with a sustainable framework for all of their policies and procedures during regular operations, as well as in a scenario that required them to manage an outbreak such as COVID-19.
“Even though no one wants to think about dealing with a pandemic, we knew we were prepared,” Bisaillon said. “When there were challenges and barriers, the thing that really kept us grounded was the framework we adopted from Accreditation Canada. We knew that we were in a good place.”
Bisaillon said that as the pandemic progressed, Safehaven’s personal protective equipment (PPE) orders were canceled, as equipment was rerouted to larger health organizations. Additionally, there was the realization that workers were employed by multiple care organizations.
“There were many possible issues around cross-contamination,” she said. “I always say that we were the first to close our doors and we’ll be the last to open, because of the vulnerability of our clients.”
The Importance of Hand Washing
The organization shared that since beginning AC’s accreditation process, Safehaven has been continuing to educate its employees and monitor their compliance with hand hygiene protocols.
“When COVID-19 started, we ensured staff received refresher sessions with quizzes focused on the four moments of hand hygiene, hand washing and hand sanitizing,” noted Kathryn Burbridge, Manager of Quality, Safety and Strategic Direction at Safehaven.
Burbridge also shared that as Safehaven prepared for their initial accreditation survey, the organization aligned its cleaning protocols with recommendations in Health Standards Organization (HSO)’s standards, upon which AC programs are based.
“We also increased the number of hand hygiene audits completed to ensure employees were practicing proper hand hygiene,” she added. In addition, Safehaven used daily touchpoints and summary sheets to remind staff of high-level cleaning requirements, among other practices.
Safehaven brought in additional measures for the donning and doffing of PPE and “increased the cleaning schedule to twice daily for all high touch areas and aligned this work with a new policy for enhanced cleaning practices during COVID-19.”
Both Bisaillon and Burbridge note that Safehaven was able to stay ahead of the pandemic thanks to a vast knowledge of infection prevention and control (IPAC).
Bisaillon, who has a background in health care and who has been a surveyor for AC since 2004, adds that IPAC policies and procedures put in place by the accreditation process helped keep Safehaven out of outbreak.
“The measures we put in place because of accreditation actually kept us out of outbreak,” Bisaillon said. “Having good infection prevention and control standards in place was very important to navigate a situation like this, especially when we couldn’t get access to PPE.”
The organization expressed that the recent pandemic has forced them to make several difficult decisions. In early March, Safehaven temporarily closed their respite services and suspended visitation, allowing only employees and essential visitors into their locations.
In alignment with AC’s focus on partnering with clients and families, Safehaven was able to support and partner with their clients and families through Zoom focus groups.
“I think that our experience with the pandemic has been a true testament to how resilient and innovative Safehaven is,” Bisaillon said. “We are a leader in the community care sector.”
Helping One Another in Difficult Times with Knowledge Sharing
Safehaven has now developed an effective program for the Developmental Services sector that is designed to support community-based care organizations through COVID-19. This work has extended into community-based agencies within the Ministry of Health, the Violence Against Women sector and the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS).
This work, in partnership with the Toronto Developmental Services Alliance (TDSA), includes e-learning modules, mask fit testing, on-site inspections and on-site swabbing. A team of experts go into organizations to share knowledge, provide an assessment and help them put effective IPAC measures in place to fight COVID-19.
The TDSA-IPAC Mobile Team is led by Safehaven’s Director of Programs and Professional Practice. It consists of an infectious disease doctor, an epidemiologist and several nurses.
“As a leader, we started this integrated, cross-sector network of care to help manage COVID-19,” Bisaillon said. As of mid-July, 870 individual education sessions were completed, 212 staff members were mask fit and 17 locations were supported with outbreak management inspections.
“COVID-19 and the pandemic really helped Safehaven build capacity in the community care sector itself, in terms of infection prevention and control,” Bisaillon said. “It’s incredible work.”
Bisaillon adds that as there are a limited number of organizations accredited by AC in the Developmental Services sector, Safehaven engaged leaders in other sectors to share and adapt techniques to further protect its sector. “I was able to take strategies that other sectors were using and align it to the foundational work we had in place,” she said.
Bisaillon notes COVID-19 has been a “game changer” for the whole care community.
“Those who thought they could get by without having a solid approach to managing infectious diseases learned quickly that they needed to change their practices and focus on this area,” she said. “I think there’s a recognition that we’re not going backwards, only forward.”
This article first appeared in Accreditation Canada.