Q&A for Health Information Management Staff
Please note that as things change rapidly, Q&As and guidelines will be updated. Review this website often to ensure you have the most up to date information or consult your leader if you have concerns or identify discrepancies.
Please email HIMcommunications@providencehealth.bc.ca about any questions relating to this page.
- What can we do to protect ourselves from COVID?
- Wash your hands often at work and at home. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is best to dry your hands with a paper towel and throw it away after use. If you can't wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your face, including your eyes and nose.
You can also help stop the spread of viruses by practicing good cough and sneeze etiquette. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Throw the used tissue into a garbage can and then wash your hands. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
Finally, if you are ill, have symptoms of flu like a fever or cough, stay home and get tested.
You will need to self-isolate until the test results are known. If the test is negative, you need to stay home until symptoms have resolved. If you test positive, you will be followed by Public Health & OH&S and will be required to self-isolate for 10 days from the start of symptoms.
- Can you get sick from people who don't have symptoms?
According to the BCCDC, there have been instances of transmission before the person became sick or when a person's symptoms were so mild that they did not know they were sick.
However, it is unclear if this contributes to significant spread of the virus in the population. Most people become ill from being in close contact with someone who shows symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, therefore transmitting the virus through droplets. The evidence and update information is continuously reviewed.
- How sick is too sick to come to work?
That little tickle in your throat, a slight fever, a mild cough, etc., must all be taken seriously. If you feel these symptoms coming on at home, stay there. If you feel them coming on at work, put on a mask. Finish any essential services you are providing. Get tested. Go home and self-isolate.
The BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool is available for anyone that develops symptoms and can be used to help determine if you need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.
- What if I have allergies that cause us to sneeze and show other symptoms that may appear similar to COVID?
Some of the COVID-19 symptoms are similar to seasonal and other allergies – and you know your allergy symptoms best. If you’re unsure, please get tested. That’s also a good way to allay any uncertainty and/or fears.
For staff that recognize they have allergies and have tested negative for COVID-19, hand washing and regularly disinfecting surfaces is appropriate. Don’t be afraid to tell your colleagues you have allergies and see if you can make arrangements to make others feel more comfortable. Make sure you are always practicing proper hand hygiene and good cough/sneeze etiquette at all times.
- What if I’m concerned about my colleague with allergies and I’m not sure if it is COVID?
- If you are uncomfortable working with someone with allergies, you can reach out to Sandy Coughlin, PHC Director of Occupational Health & Safety: email@example.com
- What if I’m worried about my own health and I see colleagues who do not seem to be observing good hand hygiene or coughing?
Have a respectful and considerate conversation with your colleague if you feel that they are not observing proper hand and cough/sneeze hygiene.
If that doesn’t resolve your concerns, you should let your leader know and reach out to Sandy Coughlin, PHC Director of Occupational Health & Safety: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Are there measures in place to help maintain safe physical distancing in the workspace?
Even though we are not sick, we need to make changes to our everyday routines to stop the spread of germs between people. Physical distancing is limiting close contact with other people to slow the spread of an infectious disease and is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak, according to the BCCDC. This means keeping about two meters (six feet) or the length of a queen-sized bed apart from others.
Since this situation began, we have been working to follow the recommended minimum two meters (six feet) distance between all workspaces, including modifying workspaces where necessary. We have also been staggering shifts and breaks and allowing staff to work remotely where possible.
Physical distancing within the workspace will also be reinforced wherever possible by signage. Frequent handwashing will be reinforced, as will disinfecting of hard surfaces.
- What is being done to ensure people are physically distancing?
It’s everyone duty to ensure that you are following the physical distancing guidelines and have a compassionate conversation if you feel there are people are not following the guidelines.
If you have concerns about how the physical distancing recommendations are being implemented, please talk to your leader and/or contact OH&S at email@example.com
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) & MASKS
- What are the PPE guidelines for HIM staff?
PPE is required for all staff providing direct patient care but is not required within office settings as it can present a false sense of security and increase risk of exposure due to improper use. The standard protocols for HIM are as follows:
- Registration staff, including Emergency/Main Reg
- Staff should have access to the recommended PPE (gloves, masks, goggles) and follow leader and site direction on usage.
- Staff working in office settings (i.e. Records Management)
- For Records Management staff members that are picking up charts from medical units, masks and gloves can be supplied by their leaders on a case-by-case basis.
- Masks should be used in office settings when physical distancing is not possible, i.e:
- Physical layout of the area makes physical distancing difficult
- Staff training – close contact with a co-worker
- Registration staff, including Emergency/Main Reg
- Can we wear a mask if we can’t keep two metres apart from other staff (including training, in person meetings, lunchrooms, hallways, elevators, etc.)?
- If maintaining a physical distance of two metres is not possible at any time during your shift or at your workspace, a medical mask will be supplied to you that must be worn. If you cannot physically distance within your break room, you have to keep your mask on while you are in there, or find another place to go. We understand that this may be difficult, but it’s for everyone’s safety.
- I’ve never worn a mask before. What do I need to know?
Talk to your leader if you have any questions about mask use. Here are some additional helpful information resources for masks, including the different types, and how to properly wear one:
- If my role requires me to travel to different sites (including VCH, PHSA and Fraser Health) for in-person training, will I be supplied with a mask?
Yes, the site should provide medical masks to anyone that needs it, and in a role where you can’t physically distant, a medical mask should be provided for you at the site.
If you have any issues acquiring a mask, please notify your leader immediately.
- Can I wear a non-medical mask at work?
- Non-medical masks, including professionally manufactured cloth masks, should not be used in any work setting as they do not provide the same level of protection as a medical mask. (Non-medical masks are typically for use in the community, rather than the hospital setting.) If a mask is required to be worn, a medical grade mask will be provided.
- What are the guidelines for touching and handling paper and charts that have been on COVID wards or units?
- The best protection for staff handling paper and charts is continuing to wash your hands and not touching your face. Gloves are not recommended as they can lead to a false sense of security.
- What are the recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting administrative areas (records management offices and lunch rooms; registration spaces) as hospital operations resume?
- The principles for cleaning non-clinical and administrative areas, like lunch rooms, lounges, continues to be the same: Areas and high touch surfaces need to be decluttered, cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis and as needed by those using the space.
- What do we need to consider going forward in our office layouts?
In the months since the pandemic was first declared, we have been working hard to adapt and make changes to ensure are workspaces are safe for everyone.
The HIM senior leadership team is working with WorkSafeBC’s guidelines, along with PHC and the health authorities, to continue to ensure our sites are safe for all of our staff. The guiding safety principles remain the same:
- Appropriate distance (two meters) between staff
- Masks where this is not possible
- Hand sanitizers & disinfectant available to all staff
- Signage to guide proper physical distancing
- Appropriate distance (two meters) between staff
- Which wipes should I be using to disinfect commonly-touched surfaces and spaces to properly disinfect them from COVID-19?
Cavi Wipes, Accel Intervention and other wipes and cleaners that are approved by each site’s infection control will disinfect hard surfaces from COVID-19. These surfaces also need to be regularly cleaned, as well. Remember that we actually encourage a two-step process of cleaning AND disinfecting:
As supply chain has been experiencing intermittent shortages, you may see different wipes being provided. There is no reason for concern.
- Cleaning requires application of the chemical over the entire surface using a rub and scrub motion- it takes considerable pressure to remove soil, which when left to accumulate, becomes a home for organisms and is very difficult to remove.
- Disinfection is the second step and with a new Cavi Wipe or cloth surface, the chemical is applied over the entire surface and allowed to air dry - this is called the dwell time and is what achieves the microbial kill.
Find Health Canada’s full list of disinfectants with evidence for use against COVID-19, here: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/disinfectants/covid-19/list.html
- What if I don’t have enough cleaning supplies in my office/work space (Lysol wipes, etc.) and PPE?
- There is enough cleaning supplies and PPE for all spaces, including non-clinical. Let your leader know if you don’t have appropriate cleaning and disinfectant supplies.
- When is Plexiglas appropriate for protection? What if I work in Registration and Release of Information, where I deal in-person with patients, their families and clients?
For any staff working in proximity of others and unable to maintain spatial distancing, the best method of protection is wearing a mask and eye protection.
Plexiglas and protective barriers are currently being looked at on a site-by-site, case-by-case basis and dependant on the role, including for Registration and Release of Information, where staff regularly deal with patients and clients in person.
HIM is working with our sites and health organizations to determine if standard guidelines should be put in place for the installation of Plexiglas; however, in most HIM roles, Plexiglas is not needed where physical distancing is possible.
If you have any questions or concerns around safety and whether protective barriers are needed for your workspace, please have a conversation with your leader.
- How concerned should I be about ventilation and airflow in the office setting?
- This is not an airborne virus, so there should be no concerns about ventilation/air flow.
- Are there any guidelines or suggestions on how we use fans at work, including in our storage rooms that don’t have good airflow?
- Usage of fans is not recommended at this time. If a work space is unmanageable without a fan, reduced risk options for using a fan include:
- Disinfecting hard surfaces on a regular basis
- Using the fan at the lowest speed setting needed to achieve the desired effect.
- Having a remote control so anyone entering the room can turn off the fan at the doorway.
- Where possible, have the fan be blowing away from the entry door, for e.g. in front of an open window blowing outside or in a corner of the room pointed toward the open window.
- Can I continue to work from home?
- Yes. Essentially, there are no changes to the people who have been working from home. We are following the provincial government’s advice and people have been at work that needed to be at work; if you're able to work from home, please continue to work from home.
- What if I want to return to the office?
- If your leader or you want to have a conversation about coming into work, then we're asking the leaders to contact Occupational Health & Safety to talk about safe plans to have people return.
- How can I tell if my work space at home is set up ergonomically?
- With people working at home, there have been some real changes because most of us don't have offices set up at home that meet the same needs as at work. Occupational Health & Safety can do virtual assessments if it’s required. If you have concerns around your workstation, then give OH&S a call and they will take care of that assessment. Please first refer to the PHC online resources for ergonomic assessments: http://phc-connect.vch.ca/programs/msip/Pages/default.aspx
And even though you’re working from home, remember to take stretch breaks.
- Can I travel out-of-province?
You can travel within Canada with the exception of the Maritimes and any of the territories as their borders are still closed. The expectation is that you will ensure you are practicing physical distancing and all of the basic infection and prevention controls, but there is no need to self-isolate for 14 days if you visit another province. We can and should ask where staff are travelling to ensure it is within Canada only.
While we don’t have to self-isolate if we go outside the province, it is still recommended that we don’t travel if we don’t need to. This is going to come down to personal decisions and whether you can ensure you’ve done everything you can to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID.
Of course, the expectation remains that if you are sick, you will stay home.
- How can we tell if we have immunity to COVID-19?
- According to the BCCDC, COVID-19 is a new illness so there is not enough information yet to know how long or if at all, a person will be immune if they’ve previously been infected and developed antibodies. A strategy is being developed for how antibody testing will be used in BC to better understand how many British Columbians have been infected and how much protection that offers.
- Are there disciplinary actions for not adhering to social distancing and following hand hygiene and etiquette?
- It is expected that all HIM staff will follow the recommended hygiene to protect them and their colleagues. If anyone is not following the recommendations, their situation will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
- Is it ok for staff to be ordering food deliveries as a group to be eaten? What about bringing home baking to the department?
- Any food food deliveries should be individually wrapped, and not shared (i.e not pizza).
- What if I don’t feel safe returning to my worksite because of COVID-19?
Please talk to your leader on why you don’t feel comfortable working at your site. All HIM sites are safe and in compliance with provincial and WorkSafeBC guidelines and recommendations.
If you need additional help, please contact Occupational Health & Safety.
- If I have any questions or concerns about workplace safety, who can I contact?
- Employee Safety can support employees through this process and answer any questions they might have. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- COVID Basics
- Staff safety
- Restarting patient & client services at PHC
- Self-Isolating & Travel
- Compensation & Leaves
- Screening, Testing & Treating Patients
- COVID Testing for Staff/Medical Staff
- Concerns from patients
- Providence Town Halls
- Q&A For Long-Term Care Staff
- Q&A For Long-Term Care Residents & Families
- Providence Alerts (Texts)
- Q&A for Volunteers
- Q&A for Health Information Management Staff
If you need to reach PHC’s Infection Prevention and Control Team (IPAC), please call local 69357. Do not contact individual IPAC team members.