Collaborating with Health Care Partners, Colleagues and Community Elders to Rapidly Distribute the COVID-19 Vaccine in Stanley Mission

Given the world’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals can relate to the feeling of happiness and relief that spread through many homes and communities when it was announced that a vaccine had become available.

After receiving the call that vaccines were on their way, a team of medical professionals in Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan, worked around the clock to ensure the necessary protocols and RNSPs were put in place for their community members to receive the vaccine. This urgent response was required because of the vaccine storage requirements and to ensure the right people were getting the vaccine first. An RNSP created the opportunity for efficient and effective allocation of the vaccines to the people of Stanley Mission.

Rena Sutherland has been a Registered Nurse since 2006 and a Nurse Practitioner for five years, currently practicing in Stanley Mission at Stanley Mission Health Services, a small remote community in Northern Saskatchewan. Since beginning her work up north, Rena has become more involved in pursuing specialty practices. Given the remote nature of the community and the limited access to physicians, RNSPs allow for the RNs practicing in the area to bridge the gaps that this creates. “The sky is the limit for our RN Specialty Practices. It’s really exciting, honestly,” says Rena. “We always talk about accessibility of care, especially during the pandemic. I truly believe RN Specialty Practices increase access to care, decrease strain on the health care system, and I would argue, improve patient outcomes.”

As with most updates and developments throughout the pandemic, when the team in Stanley Mission were told that COVID-19 vaccines were becoming available, things began happening very rapidly and adaptations needed to be made as quickly as possible. Traditionally, a lengthy examination has been required to provide RNs the knowledge required to administer general vaccines. Though they had nurses who had met had met the competencies for administering other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine was new and unfamiliar which meant that additional knowledge was required to administer them. It was quickly determined that the usual examination process was not required for RNs to attain the appropriate competencies for administering the COVID-19 vaccines. Based on the review of the available evidence and the practices of the province, Canada and internationally, the RNSP was written to include the appropriate competencies for administering these vaccines. This increased numbers of RNs to be prepared to administer the vaccines as soon as they arrived, thereby allowing timely access to vaccinations.

Given that the team at Stanley Mission Health Services is not a part of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and instead operate as a federal site that is overseen by their employer, Stanley Mission Health Services, Rena and her team presented the plan to their Leadership team where she described their current status, what their intent was moving forward with the RNSP for the COVID-19 vaccine and the purpose of the specialty practice — which was to ultimately get the population vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Rena says the Leadership and Elder involvement, and the support received during this time, was very important. “Leadership was familiar with other RNSPs we have incorporated into our care model for INR monitoring and Warfarin titration, so they understood the intent of providing this specialized care to the population. Once we shared the intent of developing the RNSP for COVID-19 vaccinations, they were able to ask questions of clarification and the process happened very timely.” Consultation with the Elders in the community has been an integral part to the process, as well. The value an Elder brings to the process is significant. The Elder can share their knowledge and guidance to the process, while providing a community member standpoint on care delivery. “The perspective the Elders bring to the table is appreciated and taken into consideration every step of the way,” notes Rena. From the initial discussions with Leadership and Elders on how the community member’s needs could be served by being vaccinated to the implementation was less than one week.

With her experience working in Northern Saskatchewan, Rena appreciates the encouragement and support she has received from fellow health care workers to pursue RNSPs. She said it is exciting that we have engaged individuals who are directly affected by the RNSPs to be involved in the process. The RNs are involved in the creation of the RNSPs as well as other care providers, such as physicians, who are encouraging nurses to pursue specialty practices. Rena believes that there is an opportunity for all care providers to better understand that it is not only the northern parts of Saskatchewan where scope of practice can be optimized in the public interest through specialty practices, RNSPs can be used and implemented across all areas of practice to meet the needs of people in every corner of the province. Seeing these gaps in practice and actively thinking of how RNSPs can bridge them is a step in the right direction. Rena is very passionate about seeing the uptake of RNSPs in the province and about RNs being excited to develop them in their own practice areas.

Not only do RNSPs directly impact those who receive the care, but the RNs who are also eager to be involved. “The exciting thing is that the Registered Nurses themselves are very much engaged with it,” notes Rena. More RNs are having conversations with Rena about the potential for future RNSPs and identifying areas within their practice where they could be put into place. Physicians are also becoming more interested in seeing the RN scope of practice optimized. Rena sees this as a huge opportunity and step forward: “You have the care provider enthused about it, and you have the physician, who may not know all our technical lingo for RN Specialty Practices, but what they’re really saying in layman’s terms is, ‘Why don’t we create an RN Specialty Practice?’”

Rena sees huge potential for RNSPs in rural Saskatchewan given the limited access to care that is available in those areas, like northern communities. As a result of Rena and her team’s belief in the power and opportunity created by RNSPs, the people of Stanley Mission were able to receive their COVID-19 vaccines immediately upon their arrival. It is because of RNSPs such as this that many of our rural and remote communities continue to receive and have access to the best care possible.

“I truly believe RN specialty practices increase access to care, decrease strain on the health care system and, I would argue, improve patient outcomes.” Rena Sutherland, NP

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