Dr. Rekha Singh On Unique Leadership Challenges Of Running A Covid Hospital
- IWB Post
- June 13, 2020
The world is grappling with the novel COVID-19; its spread and daily count of cases have been flooding our consciousness and conversations. And as countries, regions, and localities struggle to curb its tentacles from engulfing more lives, the most daring frontline warriors that stand amidst us in these testing times are our medical staff and officials. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and administrators have found themselves in the middle of the ongoing pandemic sheltering patients on one hand, and trying to find a cure for the disease on the other.
One such hospital in Rajasthan, the Jaipuria Hospital in Jaipur, had been treating COVID-19 patients from April onwards. Around 110 patients tested COVID positive found refuge here and each of them has thankfully recovered. Though the hospital no longer is a COVID treatment center and has now again opened its doors for all non-COVID related medical needs, its experience and tryst with managing and tackling the positive cases with all due precautionary measures have been commendable. And helming the hospital management affairs was Dr. Rekha Singh, the Medical Superintendent, HOD of the Eye Department, and chief cataract surgeon of Jaipuria Hospital.
Dr. Rekha Singh is not only a renowned surgeon but has also carved a niche for herself for efficient hospital management. She has been felicitated with numerous awards, such as the Doctor’s Day Award in ‘Excellence in the Field of Hospital Management’, Women Entrepreneurship Award for ‘Excellence in the Field of Medicine’, Business Rankers Women Achiever award for ‘Role Model in Health Delivery Services’, and more. Calling herself a ‘multi-tasker’, she says, “My surgical practice gives me a lot of satisfaction. I feel so elated when my patients, especially senior patients bless me, but I also get pleasure in giving my services to the hospital. It is like giving back to society and also gives me a sense of serving the nation.” So yes, Dr. Rekha manages both the roles of a surgeon and administrator with ease, but her contribution to bettering lives doesn’t stop here. She along with her friends is the founder of ‘We Can Give Them Hope’, an organization that has helped people across various causes, and most recently has joined hands with NGO Feeding Hands to distribute food packets to poor patients and their attendees during the COVID crisis.
Indian Women Blog spoke with Dr. Rekha Singh to understand the challenges of converting the hospital into a COVID treatment zone, of motivating doctors and medical staff to perform their duties under the excruciating circumstances, and much more.
Doctors have been the frontline warriors in the COVID -19 crisis, so very much like a battlefield. What was your’s and the hospital’s strategy when the hospital started treating Coronavirus patients? Can you briefly walk us through the changes and challenges that followed when the hospital became a treatment center for COVID patients?
Dr. Rekha: The government decided to make our hospital a COVID treatment hospital on 14th April. It was a shock for all of us, and initially, the staff and doctors were reluctant to work. However, we asked the government to send a team to teach and train us. Also, our hospital is a 500-bed capacity hospital, but when we decided to make it a COVID hospital it was not possible to continue with this number because of social distancing. We had to divide the hospital into two parts: one was the COVID zone and the other was the non-COVID zone. And finally, we were able to make only 110 beds out of the 500. We had to lock one general gate in between the two zones and it was also our responsibility of making sure that our people and staff were safe. The first task was to prepare the ward as per COVID specifications. In the ward, we had to not only be sure about the infection but provide the security, too. Our hospital had asymptomatic COVID positive confirmed patients, so the patients thought they were healthy and didn’t want to be locked up. So there had to be doctors and guards everywhere so that the patients would not leave.
As a leader and doctor how difficult was it to get the entire team of the medical staff to work together for long hours under the scare of the circumstances? Was it a management challenge?
Dr. Rekha: Preparing the staff and doctors to work in the COVID zone was a challenge. Initially, there was a lot of panic and fear and the staff and doctors started making excuses to avoid coming to the hospital or handling COVID patients. I divided the staff into two categories, ones who were younger and the other above 50 years. The above 50 years staff were kept in the non-COVID zone, like the control rooms and amenities block, etc. and the younger staff and doctors were posted in the COVID zone. To prepare them I started giving them training and counseling. We trained them on what to do and what not to do, how to wear and remove masks, etc. With training and counseling, we found that they were motivated within two to three days of duty. Also one has to understand that it is difficult to wear PPE because you can’t breathe properly, you can’t go to the washroom and you can’t eat anything. And, so we made an area especially for these doctors and nurses where they could go and relax when they were not treating the patients. They could sit there and have chocolates, cookies, or coffee, etc. They could just call us if they needed anything. The other thing I did was that whenever they wore the PPE, I used to call them after their duty and ask them to share their experience. First, they were hesitant and they had a few complaints, but soon they were motivated and would say it was like being posted on the border and that they felt they were serving the country. And we used to upload their pictures and experiences on our Facebook page. These motivational stories had a very positive effect. Also, our staff was very positive and they would sing and clap for them and when the patients got discharged they had all good things to say about our doctors and staff.
Now that the COVID patients are being shifted to another hospital, what is the general mood or feeling at the hospital? What has been the main learning for you personally as a doctor and a leader during the pandemic?
Dr. Rekha: Handling the non-COVID zone now is more difficult than it was during treating COVID patients. It is almost like running the hospital from the start. Since we knew that we had been treating COVID patients, we took all the precautions. Now we are not sure whether the patient coming to us might be a carrier or asymptomatic patient and so the challenges are more. To convince the doctors, nurses, cleaning staff was a new challenge, for example, you can’t get a patient tested for COVID during labor pain. We had to motivate the staff, give lectures, etc. to prepare them. There were certain precautionary changes we made, such as I gave them total plastic kits because our delivery kits do not cover the feet and it’s just up to the knee. So I provided them with a full gown till the ankle, shoe covers, etc. so they could treat the patients taking all the personal precautions. Also, if it is an emergency surgery then the doctors can use the PPE. Now things are, of course, better because we have to learn to live with Covid-19.
According to you, what are some of the deficiencies or challenges in our medical health care system that have been more pronounced during this crisis?
Dr. Rekha: I think we are in a much better condition than other countries. For example, we are not short of masks, and when we were treating COVID patients we gave the N95 masks to everybody, right from the doctor to all the other staff because every life is equally important. I don’t think we are behind in any way, at least I can say so about my state Rajasthan. No health officials had been affected because we followed all the precautions.
Tell us a little about ‘We Can Give Them Hope’, the motivation behind it. What are some of the initiatives the organization has been undertaking during this time of crisis?
Dr. Rekha: I am the wife of a senior IAS officer, and it was along with my friends, who are also wives of IAS and IPS officers, that this initiative began. Around five-six years back there were food poisoning cases in my hospital and that is when our friends decided to do something. We gave the patients sanitizers, water bottles, as well as educated them on cleanliness and hygiene. This gave us a lot of satisfaction and from that point onwards we decided to continue helping others like we collected old clothes and distributed them during winters, we started doing blood donation camps in my hospital, sponsored treatment, education, etc. We have once contributed computers to an elementary school. Now we have been distributing food packets to poor patients in collaboration with NGO Feeding Hands.
Do you think women face more challenges in the medical field? Also, do you think it was easier or difficult to lead and manage the hospital being a woman yourself?
Dr. Rekha: No, I have never faced any problem because of my gender. In fact, one staff member once told me that being a man he would not have been able to handle the management and situations but I being a woman could! I only feel like an Indian serving the nation and have never felt the gender bias as a surgeon or administrator. It could be that I come from a privileged background, but if you are a good surgeon then patients will come to you irrespective of your gender.
Finally, what advice or inspiration would you like to give young doctors, especially during these times?
Dr. Rekha: I would like to say to all the young doctors that they have become doctors to serve society. They should just keep doing good work, serve their patients and the money will definitely come as there is no shortcut to success. Running after making money might venture them into wrongful practices but if they strive to be good doctors, their practice will flourish and they will earn well, too.