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COVID-19 patient isolation could lead to mental health struggles: Alberta ICU doctor

Click to play video: 'How isolation is affecting COVID-19 patients' How isolation is affecting COVID-19 patients
WATCH ABOVE: University of Alberta ICU doctor Peter Brindley describes the loneliness facing patients in ICU. He joins Gord Steinke to talk about his concerns and how staff are acting like both family and health care providers. – May 18, 2020

Dr. Peter Brindley is on the frontlines of the war against COVID-19. He is a critical care physician at the University of Alberta Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and admits battling the virus has meant spending less time with his patients. 

‘We can’t go in the room every two minutes but at the same time, you don’t want to only go into the room every five to six hours because that poor person needs to be engaged with and feel taken care of,” said Brindley.

Dr Peter Brindley is a critical care physician at the University of Alberta Hospital. He says COVID-19 is teaching him the difference between solitude and isolation.
Dr Peter Brindley is a critical care physician at the University of Alberta Hospital. He says COVID-19 is teaching him the difference between solitude and isolation. Supplied

Brindley says his patients in ICU want to know everything is under control and to feel connected.

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READ MORE: Here’s how hospital staff at a Toronto ICU are treating coronavirus patients

He points to a 2016 University of Alberta study that found compared to non-isolated patients, isolated patients receive less attention from health care workers. The study saw isolated patients receive 50 per cent less physical contact and health professionals spend 50 per cent less time in their rooms. 

“Some are fine with it, some are scared with it.”

COVID-19 isn’t the first virus to lead to isolation in hospitals but Brindley says it has forced him to re-evaluate his role.

“We are trying to work out how to almost be family as well as health care providers,” Brindley said. 

READ MORE: Edmonton hospital staff fighting COVID-19 with ‘renewed commitment and renewed energy’: doctor

He worries isolation precautions might increase patient psychological vulnerability and make them feel like they are unclean or even undeserving of attention.

“Just take a moment and imagine what it’s like to be sick, starved of visitors, and unable to recognize masked healthcare workers as fellow humans eager to help.”

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He says a colleague reminded him of the time Anne Frank spent by herself.

“If Anne Frank was able to socially isolate for 700 days during the Second World War, how on earth did she do that? Because we are really struggling.”

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Edmonton ICU doctor gets candid about COVID-19 crisis – Apr 7, 2020

Hospitals across Canada, including at the University of Alberta, have turned to technology to help patients feel connected.

“We’ve used iPads to communicate, FaceTime. We are now loosening up visitation, it’s easier to come visit. We’ve been trying our darnedest to make daily phone calls to family, to give them an update.”

To read more about Brindley’s thoughts on solitude and loneliness, click here.

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