The way Maastricht UMC dealt with COVID-19

By Claire Schouten

In the past year the feelings of fear, exhaustion and hopelessness dominated in hospitals all over The Netherlands. Healthcare workers worked really hard to nurture, take care of the patients, and make sure they got discharged from the hospitals. On May 29, there were – for the first time in 2021 – less than 500 COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care. This is a milestone for the healthcare workers. Mirthe Muurmans (20) is a Creative Business student and healthcare worker at Maastricht UMC. Muurmans tells how the employers of MUMC have persevered this long.

Students help a lot in hospitals, even already before the pandemic. However, in most hospitals there is a prerequisite for students to work in a hospital. They have to go to med school or study in that same study direction. Nevertheless, in Maastricht they allow ‘regular’ students of higher education to help out with the logistics and facilities in the hospital. These tasks have nothing to do with medical acts, therefore not-medical-educated-students are perfectly capable to help in a hospital. Muurmans states: “During a busy shift, I walk an average amount of 20.000 steps.” These are precious kilometres that other health employers do not have to walk.

The head of facilities, Marjo Henssen, heard the cry for help from several departments in the hospital. Henssen and the head of the volunteer department, Djamilla Brouwers, put their heads together to come up with an idea to decrease this intracranial pressure. In march 2020 the food and service industry had to close, hence the employers and visitors cafeteria had to close down partially or fully in the hospital. This resulted in less employment opportunities. Three of the fulltime employers started working as a Healthcare Supporting Team (In Dutch it is called Zorg Ondersteunend Team, also ZOT). These three coordinators started with taking calls from different departments and placing orders.

Several students from facility management and medical students were working as interns at the MUMC at the office. These students were asked to work in the Healthcare Supporting Team at the end of their internship. The team was in the beginning really small and it has grown to a group of approximately 30 people at the moment.

Muurmans started working in the hospital in July 2020. She needed a summer job in her hometown Maastricht and she got to the job thanks to her aunt. Muurmans tells: “My aunt works with Djamilla Brouwes and therefor she heard a lot about the start of the Healthcare Supporting Team.” They needed more young students who could work there for the summer. After the summer, almost all students were asked to stay and keep working.

We had to get an agreement from MUMC for the funding first. Remarkable is that the nursing departments do not want to work without the Healthcare Supporting Team anymore, however they do not want to fund it themselves and deducted it from their own budget. The Healthcare Supporting Team gets a contract extension every couple of months. “We heard in January 2021, that we got an extension for an entire year, untill January 2022. So that is good news!”

Muurmans only works in the weekends. Most of the time she works on Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes on one of those days. The coordinators work mostly during the weekdays. Recently, some students got some more responsibility and got promoted to coordinators. This means that they also have phone shifts.

Muurmans explains: “We work shifts from 7:00 a.m. till 3:30 p.m. or 11:30 a.m. till 7:30 p.m. This means that the Healthcare Supporting Team is available for all the departments from 7:00 a.m. till 7:30 p.m.” Nursing departments call the most often. The policlinic only calls during the weekdays. The departments call for all different reasons. The office can call for mouth masks or for security reasons. The most common calls are for cultures. Someone picks up the cultures and then brings it to one of the labs. There is no need for any medical knowledge to get this job. The most important things, they will learn over there. “Before I started there,” tells Muurmans, “I did not know what a perfusor pomp and infuse looked like.”

Furthermore, they walk occasionally past the test streets in the hospital. There are different test locations in the hospital, for the employers, pre operation tests, commercial tests and so on. They bring the tests from the test street to one of the labs in the hospital. They also get called to fetch infusion pumps, they get medication in the apothecary and bring it to the concerned department, also bedside tables, beds, etc. Muurmans says: “Lastly we help the nutrition assistant. We feed patients and also have to smear sandwiches. We just help, were there is help needed.”

During the COVID-19 peeks or ‘waves’ as the media calls it, it means that the Healthcare Supporting Team are completely busy with activities concerning the Intensive Care departments. They ask for a lot of different materials, which we deliver to them. Materials such as Face shields, medical aprons, gloves, mouth masks, intensive care beds, wastebins and barrels for used COVID-19 materials.

“This jobs means a lot to me. I have a lot of respect for the nurses and I learn how to deal with different kind of patients”, Muurmans explains. For instance, a lot of fellow students and co-workers do not want to be placed at the oncology department, because they cannot handle it.  Muurmans says: “I like to believe that we decrease the pressure on the healthcare employers by doing the job we do. The nurses tell us that they appreciate us, and I completely support this initiative.” She believes that all hospitals should work with Healthcare Supporting Teams. She is proud to work at an innovative and progressive hospital. They are already busy with improving and expanding the tasks of the team. And maybe in the near future they can help the healthcare employers even more.