Sarah Flanagan, Family-OB PA in Refugee Health on the Frontlines of COVID-19

The novel coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed so much for healthcare providers, personally and professionally, across the country and around the world. So, perhaps what has been the most strange for me working as a PA right now is that, with everything shifting all around me, my own professional role and clinic schedule has remained unchanged.

I work as a family-OB PA at Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre, the largest dedicated refugee health centre in Canada. While the rest of our clinic has shifted to mostly telemedicine, virtual visits, and support staff working from home, my prenatal patients, newborns and small babies largely still require in-person assessments, so I’m providing care as though it’s “business as usual” – but with some clear adjustments.

Our health centre is essentially locked down, except for my clinic and those patients other providers determine require in-person assessments after a virtual visit. Our main entry doors are locked, and patients are screened for symptoms via intercom before entering the clinic. Anyone symptomatic is advised to go home, self-isolate, and we will call them to determine treatment / testing plans over the phone. Once patients do enter clinic, they have their temperature taken before they can proceed to the waiting room or nursing triage. Our waiting area has been reorganized to respect physical distancing guidelines. Though my patients are asymptomatic, to protect them, our staff, and myself, I’ve been required to wear PPE  and go through a careful decontamination routine between patients, when leaving the clinic, and when arriving home.

What has changed the most, though, is the atmosphere at Sanctuary. We typically see over 200 patients in clinic each day; our waiting room is a hectic but happy place where people share stories, children play, and you will hear at least a dozen languages spoken at once. In addition to healthcare, our offices house settlement workers, social workers and counselling, legal aid, and allied community organizations, all of which are working remotely or suspended for now. We have always taken pride in creating a true sanctuary for our patients – not just a clinic, but a warm, welcoming, community centre. We even had a family host their son’s first birthday party in our staff room last year!

Right now, everything feels a bit too quiet, too clinical, and too distant – but we know it is necessary. I never thought I would say this, but I am eagerly awaiting the day that Sanctuary returns to it’s normal busy bustle, when we have a hundred walk-ins and no time for lunch or bathroom breaks! In the mean time, I am grateful that I get to go in to work, care for patients in-person, and feel safe and supported by my organization and staff – and that they trust me as a PA to provide this essential care to high-risk patients in the midst of a pandemic.

I am so proud to be a Physician Assistant working on the front lines, and a consistent in-person care provider for the expectant mothers and new families at our clinic.

About Sarah Flanagan, CCPA

Sarah is a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant working in Family Medicine-OB. She specializes in antenatal and newborn care, at this interdisciplinary refugee health centre in Kitchener, Ontario.