Creative innovations in the midst of COVID-19

In the midst of this COVID-19 global pandemic, Bongolo is continuing to innovate and make creative changes. The following story showcases examples of the ingenuity of the hospital staff.

Medical Director Dr. Renée Valach has been training and leading the nursing staff with simulated practices to correctly put on and take off PPE (personal protective equipment). Dr. Renée has creatively demonstrated how a COVID-19 patient might pass on the virus by using a glove dipped in green paint and “coughing” on the staff member wearing the PPE. Then that staff member carefully takes off their equipment only to find traces of green paint on them even after being so vigilant to try not to contaminate themselves. These simulations and practices have been invaluable in allowing the staff to see, literally, how the virus can so easily spread if PPE is not properly removed, and to convince them of the necessity of showering after each shift before going home to their families and communities.

Dr Renée with Nurse Wesli. This training took place using leftover Ebola suits.
Nurse Wesli taking off PPE with Nurse Marie looking on
Nurse Wesli finding green paint on himself despite his efforts to remain clean
Nurses Philemon and Evelyn
Nurses simulating taking care of a COVID-19 patient

Surgeon and PAACS director Dr. Zach O’Connor, Dr. Jeff Lane, Dr. Drew Huang, and Dr. Simplice Tchoba are setting up an isolated OR at the old eye clinic building, which has already been transformed into the COVID-19 isolation ward, to prevent potential contamination of the existing OR in the event that a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 would need an emergency surgery. They have also set up a decontamination clean-up room for the staff to use after their shifts of working with suspected or known COVID-19 patients if and when that time comes.

Dr. Zach setting up the new OR in the COVID19 isolated ward. Custodial staff playing an important role as well.
Dr. Jeff helping move equipment to the new isolation OR
Maintenance team helping to move equipment

Steve Straw, aviation mechanic and pilot for the C&MA national church and Bongolo Hospital, has made the transfer of skills needed to fix many broken oxygen concentrators that could save lives if and when COVID-19 arrives at Bongolo. Steve was contacted by Dr. Sarah when she discovered many of the oxygen concentrators were in disrepair. She asked Steve to try his hand at fixing them. He sought some advice from Paul Davis, the hospital’s previous maintenance director who is back in the states. They video conferenced and Steve began fixing the machines with help from the hospital’s local maintenance staff. The long-distance teamwork between Paul in the US and the local maintenance staff here at Bongolo has enabled Steve to develop new skills in repairing oxygen concentrators. We may not have made this discovery that is so helpful for the hospital for some time, had it not been for the novel coronavirus.

Nicolas, Steve and Silvano working on an oxygen concentrator

The new Ophthalmic Center has installed clear plastic “breath shields” on their equipment to help protect both the patients and the medical staff from the possible spread of the virus. Dr. Steve Anderson of Global Eye Mission, a supporter and friend of Dr. Wendy Hofman, sent instructions on how to make these breath shields for use with slit lamps. Due to the ophthalmologist’s face being less than a foot away from their patients’ faces while doing an exam at the slit lamp bio-microscope, it’s especially important to have that shield to protect the provider and patient from potential cross-contamination via respiratory droplets. The ophthalmology resident Dr. Roger Muhemi is friends with the local office supply man and was able to procure the clear plastic filing sheets, which were doubled up to increase their rigidity. Dr. Roger was the one to actually construct the shields. Once again an important skill transfer and innovation during these times.

Dr. Roger cleaning between patients
Dr. Roger examining a patient using the shield he constructed

Dr. Jeff Lane is using his technical skills to enable the team to meet via a local network that works without the need of an outside internet connection. Dr. Jeff worked with IT specialists Jason Linscombe from France and Eric Laracuente and Greg Skelton of Wisconsin to find a solution that would enable team conferencing using internet-free technology. Eric found the TrueConference video-conferencing software, which is a system that solves this need. Eric accessed and installed the system remotely from his location in Wisconsin. He then trained Dr. Jeff on how to use the system. TrueConference allows the team to stay connected without having to depend on costly and inconsistent internet connections in this remote corner of the rainforest.

The IT team visit in January, L-R: Greg Skelton, Jason Linscombe, Dr. Jeff, and Eric Laracuente
Eric and Greg
The team using TrueConference video for a recent meeting (probably a very familiar sight in these strange times)

Bongolo Hospital is currently seeing patients and performing essential surgeries. The maternity department is over capacity and is the exception right now, as the rest of the hospital is under capacity. With the country in quarantine and travel restrictions in place, there are markedly less patients than usual. Please pray for the people of this region and the hospital as times are very lean financially. There are over 100 staff members drawing salaries, and due to seeing significantly less patients over the last couple of months the reserve funds are rapidly shrinking. Pray for the hospital to remain financially solvent during this uncertain time.

Eric Hofman hard at work with the finances of the hospital
Dr. Simplice Tchoba and Dr. Asaph Elvam during a recent surgery
Dr. Izzi Elliot took this photo to show how full the maternity department is right now. They are lining up mattresses on the floor because there aren’t enough beds.

We look forward to reporting the works of God’s hand in our midst in the near future.

Written by Alace Straw, Photography by Ulrich ILema