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Wintec Initiative Delivers Critical Support To The Elderly During Lockdown

When Covid-19 hit first hit Aotearoa New Zealand, some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people became isolated. Wintec nursing students stepped up to help, demonstrating why our health response needs to be more agile and inclusive than ever.

At 1.30pm on 23 March 2020, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 3, and just 48 hours later, the country went to Alert Level 4, full lockdown. At the time, many community-dwelling older people in the Waikato needed urgent assessment of their support needs.

To help address this need, five Wintec nursing faculty and 19 students stepped up to deliver critical telehealth support.

The group of Wintec third year Bachelor of Nursing students and their tutors added a layer to their already comprehensive training schedule to become telehealth assessors with Waikato District Health Board and TAS InterRAI Services to support the Covid-19 response.

The initiative, says Wintec Adjunct Professor, Health and Social Practice, Sharon Brownie, is a credit to everyone involved during a time when Wintec campuses closed and teaching and learning moved online.

“This voluntary team of nursing students and their tutors got on and delivered under extreme conditions.

“The group were trained, assessed and qualified as telehealth assessors, and then undertook clinical placements from their own homes, via telephone. It was tough, they had to gain access and permissions to health records and manage privacy which was a challenge for those living in shared living situations.”

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Education can be thought of as slow to provide the ability to respond to an emergency, but Professor Brownie says this initiative “demonstrated clinical relevance and the responsiveness of students under tremendous pressure in a very short time”.

“This was not only a telehealth response, but it also became an emergency initiative, that required extensive planning and execution.

“It demonstrates agility in a time when contact and resources are compromised, when our response to community health needs have to be more agile and inclusive than ever.”

“The world of health practice has changed because of Covid-19 and lockdowns, and initiatives like Healthline are crucial to give advice, maintain accessibility of services and increase competency of the workforce.”

It started when health service leaders at Waikato District Health Board reached out to their Wintec nursing education colleagues concerned that many older people would not have their basic needs met during the crisis. For example, adequate food, social connection, and if unwell, appropriate access to care.

They developed a proposal for a telehealth placement that would increase the DHB’s clinical assessment and response capacity and provide training and experience for the students.

In a first for New Zealand, the Nursing Council of NZ approved the first telehealth clinical placement for undergraduate students.

New Zealand mandates the assessment of older people living in care, and in the community through interRAI, a globally used clinical assessment tool. The nursing students and faculty involved were screened and trained by interRAI-NZ educators to work remotely from their homes. Access to the interRAI software was removed once the placements were concluded.

Professor Brownie says this was an outstanding learning experience for the students involved.

“It increased students’ awareness and their interest of older people and developed their engagement skills. In clinical placements, our students don’t often get this level of autonomy and through this initiative, they were able to demonstrate and develop their leadership skills. For many of them, it was the first time they had been ‘in charge’.”

National Chair of InterRAI NZ, Cathy Cooney says the lockdown scenario signalled a need for assistance in completing interRAI assessments for vulnerable older adults within the Waikato catchment area.

“It was important that these most vulnerable members in the community could access an up-to-date assessment and, as a result, receive relevant resources and support while restricted to their homes.

“With Covid-19 continuing to be active in our community, telehealth has become a very useful component for assessments, and it would be excellent to see all student nurses have the opportunity to perform interRAI assessments. If integrated into nursing education this would help students to demonstrate that they’ve met the required standards,” says Cooney.

“The response has identified the need to ensure our future health workforce is skilled and resourced to operate remotely, enabling health professionals to reach those they cannot see in person.”

Read the peer reviewed publication: Evaluating an undergraduate nursing student telehealth placement for community-dwelling frail older people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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