COVID Travel Therapy Contract by Robbie Armstrong

Therapists are very valuable and can work in the COVID unit. We normally think of nurses or physicians who work with patients with COVID however patients need rehab to return to their prior level. Today, we have an interesting story of how a travel occupational therapist, Robbie, has stepped into a new role. We hope Robbie’s story will inspire others and show how therapists can help during the pandemic.                             

9/9/21

The past year and a half have been an unpredictable and tumultuous time for all of us and mine was certainly no exception. Like many other travel therapists in early 2020, I found myself with a canceled contract and no idea what the next step was. As I scrolled through the different Facebook travel therapy pages to see what other people were going through, I came across a brand new posting for a crisis OT contract with little information other than it involved working directly in the frontlines of patients infected with the newly arrived Covid-19 virus. I was told the contract would only be for 8 weeks, maybe somewhat longer, until the virus was “over”. Drawn by the feeling of excitement of the unknown and uncertainty that originally drew me to pursue travel therapy, I immediately called and before I knew it, I was packing my bags for Maryland with little idea of what I was walking into.

 

What I ended up walking into was perhaps the most unusual travel therapy contract I or any others had heard of. I found myself in a small 135-bed hospital in Laurel, Maryland which had previously been closed and now being temporarily reopened and repurposed as a field hospital for patients with COVID-19. The building was staffed by over 300 travel nurses, doctors, technicians, and therapists from all over the states with varying backgrounds and ways of doing things. The hospital was part of the University of Maryland Medical System and we were remotely managed from another hospital in the system. The hospital and our paychecks came from the Maryland state government in collaboration with UMMMS and Maxim Healthcare as a preemptive move from the governor to manage Covid cases in the state. Our take-home weekly pay was about $3100 (later reduced to $2800) with 44 guaranteed hours. Fortunately, we had excellent quality PPE provided to us including respirators, face shields, N-95s, isolation gowns, as well as shoe and hair coverings.

As you can imagine, Covid was not “over” in 8 weeks, and I have ended up staying at the contract since then with several extended breaks in between. What has transpired has truly been a unique and incredible experience, unlike any other contract I have experienced or likely will experience in the future. The contract came with its fair share of challenges, especially in the early waves of Covid when there was virtually no protocol on how to treat Covid and much of the intervention was trial and error. This was further complicated by the differing opinions and approaches of professionals who came from all over the country from different backgrounds now under one roof. At times, we had to persistently advocate to be involved in patients’ care and what is in our scope of practice as our role in the patients’ hospitalization was often questioned and challenged. In the long run, however, this challenge proved to be an incredible opportunity to display the role and value of Speech, Occupational, and Physical therapy in a pandemic setting as we collaborated with nursing staff, respiratory therapists, and doctors to gradually develop our own protocols and produce consistent, positive outcomes with our patients. With our management being remote and much of the day-to-day operations left up to us, it felt deeply empowering to take on these responsibilities on our own using our own clinical skills and judgment.

Our caseload generally comprised 2 broad categories of patients. The first, higher functioning patients who were previously home-dwelling and independent were now requiring supplemental O2 and had limited activity tolerance. While these patients seldom required hands-on physical assistance, our treatment heavily focused on energy conservation, activity pacing and modification, and teaching the patients to monitor and titrate their own oxygen to prepare them for an independent home discharge. The second category, and the one that holds a special place in my heart, were our post ventilator patients. These patients were often intubated for weeks and had multiple complicating factors after extubation including tracheostomies, requiring dialysis, sacral wound complications, having extra lines and tubes, and often having significant oxygen requirements. Many of these patients started out nearly completely paralyzed from being on paralytic medication for an extended period of time. They required frequent, long, and intense daily cotreats to progress and were often in our hospital for months post-extubation before finding placement. Our therapy team developed close relationships with these patients and our work with them is the most memorable and positive experience for me here.

Despite the challenges of this contract, it has been an overwhelmingly positive and unique experience. Being able to manage and troubleshoot our own department without the worries of productivity, units, or other management issues has felt incredibly liberating and affirming in my competence and value as a therapist. Additionally, being able to work in a facility entirely staffed by travelers has put on full display the unique abilities we possess and travelers to be resourceful, adaptive, and innovative.

 

I plan to stay at this contract for some time longer since I feel a meaningful role in this project and would like to see it through. In the future, I will use this experience to share with others the distinctive value we are capable of as both rehab professionals and travelers.

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Robbie Armstrong has been a travel OT since graduation. He is currently four years into the travel world and has no plans to stop. He has a strong passion for the outdoors, fitness, and finance and enjoys being involved in the travel therapy community.

Contact Info:

IG: rob.ot_

Email: robertarmstrong.ot@gmail.com

We Would like to thanks Robbie for sharing his story with us. Please feel to contact Robbie about his experience.

Admin
Author: Admin

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