Tackling the first COVID-19 wave at the Cape Town Hospital of Hope: Why was it such a positive experience for staff?

Background In contrast to alarming reports of exhaustion and burnout amongst healthcare workers in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we noticed surprisingly positive staff experiences of working in a COVID-19 field hospital in South Africa. The 862-bed ‘Hospital of Hope’ was established at the Cape Town International Convention Centre specifically to cope with the effects of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cape Town.

Methods We aimed to systematically describe and assess the effects on staff and the local health system. A cross-sectional descriptive study design was employed using mixed methods including record reviews and interviews with key informants.

Results Quantitative results confirmed high job satisfaction and low staff infection rates. The emerging themes from the qualitative data are grouped around a “bull’s eye” of the common purpose of person-centredness, from both patient and staff perspectives, and include staff safety and support, rapid communication, continuous learning and adaptability, underpinned by excellent teamwork. The explanations for the positive feedback included good disaster planning, adequate resources, and an extraordinary responsiveness to the need.

Conclusions The ‘Hospital of Hope’ staff experience produced significant learnings for the design and management of routine health services outside of a disaster situation. The adaptability and responsiveness of the facility and its staff was largely a product of the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, but such approaches could benefit routine health services enormously, as individual hospitals and health facilities realize their place in a system that is ‘more than the sum of its parts’.

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