How COVID-19 ‘screeners’ are working to keep the virus out of an Alberta hospital

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How screeners are working to keep COVID-19 out of Alberta hospitals
A trip to the hospital during the pandemic can be stressful. A new screener job in the health-care system has been created to make things a little easier. Morgan Black introduces us to our latest Health-Care Hero – Apr 16, 2021

A new job created during the COVID-19 pandemic is helping keep the virus outside of the University of Alberta hospital, keeping visitors and staff safe.

Screeners can be found at every entrance of the hospital, equipped with a checklist of questions, hand sanitizer and a container filled with masks.

“It’s critically important we keep the health-care facility safe and a large part of that is making sure people visiting are not carrying the virus,” explained Mike Bentley, manager of entrance screening.

Staff from throughout the hospital were trained for the role, while others were specially hired. The number of screeners ranges between 250 and 300 people at any time.

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“We have nurses, we have managers — pretty much we draw from everywhere. It’s an all hands on deck effort,” Bentley said.

Bentley said the team can screen up to 15,000 people in a single day, including patients, visitors, staff and contractors.

“We staff seven entrances at four different buildings,” Bentley said. “If you’re coming to the hospital, you’re going to meet a screener.”

Terra Hodgins is a charge nurse for the site screening program at the U of A hospital. She said the new role has evolved alongside what experts know about the pandemic.

“We started from scratch. Our questions changed and so did our restrictions, most commonly our visitor restrictions,” she said.

Hodgins said visitor restrictions have been a difficult, stressful or heartbreaking part of the job.

“Nobody wants to be at the hospital. If you’re here it’s because you or a loved one are sick. It’s already a scary place for many,” Hodgins said.

“Even still, people aren’t expecting the restrictions. It’s super hard to tell them at the entrance when they were ready to go see a loved one that [they can’t come in].”
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The nurse said she has dealt with high tensions at the screener entrance on numerous occasions.

“We deal with a lot of conflict day to day. We’ve all seen some growth in ourselves and our teammates,” she explained. “Just in how we handle the situations. We do always try our best to remain calm and respectful and to have a good listening ear.”

Hodgins said she understands a trip to the hospital is often stressful and she hopes her role can provide peace of mind.

“For people to have us to talk to and ask questions — I think people feel safer knowing every single person in the hospital has been screened.”

The new role comes with its own challenges, but Hodgins said its made her even prouder to work in health-care.

“All of our efforts have helped us minimize, as much as possible, outbreaks within our facility. We are here to help,” she said.

“It’s a very critical job but it’s also a very difficult job. They also tend to be our unsung heroes. We are very proud of the work they do,” Bentley said. “They just do a great job of making people feel welcome.”

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Global Edmonton’s Health-Care Heroes series highlights people in Edmonton doing amazing things during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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