23 January 2020 – Singapore’s first COVID-19 patient was diagnosed in SGH. That marked the start in Singapore of the global pandemic that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the crisis of this generation.
For the Division of Medicine (DoM), it was clear that a Command Post was needed to manage the onslaught of information that had to be disseminated to the doctors, and to manage urgent medical manpower requirements in a rapidly evolving situation.
“We quickly morphed from being the Information Centre into the “Ministry of Manpower” for Deployment (and Redeployment),” said Manager, Ratna Binte Abdul Rahman, who manages the team running the DoM Command Post.
Medical manpower was urgently required to support the hospital’s enhanced needs in areas such as the isolation wards, acute respiratory wards set up specially for patients with respiratory symptoms, the Emergency Department, Staff Clinic, and the extended fever screening area. The Command Post team was on standby 24/7 and had to be resourceful and adapt to the ever-changing situation. The planning parameters for the isolation and acute respiratory wards’ rosters and coverage areas were changed frequently based on changes in the pandemic situation and the hospital’s operational needs. These also impacted the regular night call rosters for the House Officers, Medical Officers and Registrars as all the rosters tapped on the same pool of junior doctors from DoM.
“The team has been working closely with doctors and nurses to coordinate manpower deployments and we are very grateful for their partnership and open sharing of information that would have impacted our planning considerations,” said Ratna.
“We also became AirBnB,”said Ratna. “As more junior doctors were required to support the 24/7 hospital operations, it came to our attention that they needed more on-call rooms. These were eventually carved out by sourcing for and pushing beds with the help of Nursing, Environmental Services, FME colleagues to transform several rooms such as the Patient Counselling room in the main isolation ward and the Day Room for patients in some of the other wards into on-call rooms for the doctors. We could never have done it without their support!”
When instructions came that all DOM doctors had to wear N95 masks, a month-long effort ensued to get all of them mask-fitted. Thanks to our nurses from the Infection Prevention and Epidemiology team who made this happen!
Information had to be disseminated in a timely manner to all levels of staff within the Division. This meant townhalls, briefings and electronic communication had to be quickly organised.
Townhall briefing on COVID-19 updates on 23 January 2020. Photo taken before safe distancing measures.
Manning the Command Post since 27 January 2020 was a team of six administrators, who support the Division’s Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) Committee.
The ‘youngest’ in the team is Hospital Executive, Ho Wan Qi, who was then barely three months with DoM, with Grace Kwek, Ang Yi Lin and Ratna Abdul Rahman. As the pandemic continued, Tan Su Xian joined the team to ensure sustainability. The EPR team was also supplemented by another executive, Daniel Seto, who has experience in roster planning.
Just a few weeks before COVID-19 hit our shores, the team was starting to prepare for a disease outbreak exercise in October. Little did they know that they would experience a real pandemic.
(From left) Ang Yi Lin, Ho Wan Qi, Ratna Abdul Rahman, Grace Kwek Teck Cheng, Tan Su Xian
While running the DoM Command Post, the team still had to perform their regular duties as part of the Clinical Services and Improvement team supporting the Division’s many departments. Having a strong support system in the team helped them tide through the most challenging moments.
“As much as possible, we will try to disconnect from the job after hours and during the weekend in order to regain our equilibrium. It is good that the teamwork is very strong, as we know that we will support each other whenever any of us needed some time away,” said Ratna.
“To the doctors and staff in DoM who have been tirelessly contributing to the fight, we appreciate you. And thanks everyone for your sacrifices, understanding and responsiveness to the call of duty, without which none of this would have been possible.”
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