“We developed a shared sense of specific situations.”

Ulrike Leutwyler is a registered nurse who has been in charge of the healthcare services for the four federal asylum centres (FACs) in North-Western Switzerland since 2019. She also works as a coordinator, communicator and ombudsperson for all the people working in the various FACs, commuting from on FAC to another. SEM analysed the situation in the times of COVID-19 and spoke with her about cooperation, challenges, risks and successes.

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Ulrike Leutwyler

Drive Pfeil nach unten

“I am a hands-on and forward-looking person who sees the positive in everything, and am driven by two forces. On the one hand I strive to ensure the well-being of the people entrusted to our care; and, on the other hand, I work to live up to the high standards I set for myself. The added challenge of dealing with the COVID-19 virus has pushed us all to the brink. We ultimately succeeded in responding to the situation in the best possible way. In addition to our network, the positive feedback we received and the good cooperation with our partners provided us with support.”

Beginning Pfeil nach unten

“The beginning was scary. My first thought when the pandemic broke out was that something huge is barrelling towards us. We sat down with SEM early on and they were always there for us. We thought about what COVID-19 meant for the asylum seekers, and tried to prepare as best we could.”

Flexibility Pfeil nach unten

“The important thing is for us to keep an open mind, so that we can adjust our responses to the different scenarios. Every day is different. Over time, you get used to the new situation, become resilient and work together to persevere. We also knew we could not always stick to the given rules, but never lost sight of the big picture. Above all, we stayed focussed on what we could actually get done.”

Openness Pfeil nach unten

“Our concern is to keep an open mind and heart and to take everything and everyone seriously. This is not a stock phrase limited to our work, but extends to the way we live our daily lives. We reassess every new situation and respond to people’s different backgrounds and requirements. This was particularly true during the COVID-19 outbreak: we kept people informed, got them on board, and helped dispel fears. In the process, we developed a shared sense of special situations that was greatly appreciated by all.”

Cooperation Pfeil nach unten

“All in all, everything went smoothly and people were generally satisfied with how things were done. Of course, there was stress because of the continuous testing and restricted freedom. But, people were generally accepting of the situation, and there was no unrest. Everyone really cooperated. What didn’t help, however, were the false claims from outside reporting, accusing us of locking up asylum seekers, when we were in fact quarantined by the cantonal doctor.”

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Four cantons Pfeil nach unten

“We are responsible for four federal asylum centres in four cantons. The most important and most difficult thing at the same time is communication and ensuring that everyone is always up to date with the latest information, not least because different rules apply in different cantons, especially with regard to COVID-19. So, time and again, we had to find a common consensus on the rules. In other words, our work was solution oriented.”

Infrastructure Pfeil nach unten

“That was one of our biggest challenges: organising isolation rooms and space for quarantine, and fencing off isolation and quarantine spaces - in some cases we had to install airlocks and showers and had to deal with spatial restrictions. This led to uncertainties. But in the end, thanks to the commitment of the whole crew, we always found a way.”

Risks Pfeil nach unten

“We have been in an exceptional situation for two years, and have also had to contend with a certain weariness of the situation. Everyone wishes things were back to normal. The situation has taken a toll on our core business, because we have had to keep focusing on the virus. But, we deliberately kept focusing on people's well-being. And specifically took time when someone wanted to address specific concerns.”

Successes Pfeil nach unten

“We make sure that the motivation in the team is high. We place particular emphasis on cooperation and diligence. We tackle things courageously and are also allowed to make mistakes from time to time. It is important for me to regularly give positive feedback, to help bring out the best.”

Lessons learned Pfeil nach unten

“We wrote down our knowledge and experience right from the start; if only so that we would be well prepared for any next time and, in the best case, would only have to make minor adjustments. We took a preventive approach and want to be a step ahead.”

Added value Pfeil nach unten

“Of course, it was a hard and difficult time for everyone. But, I believe that each and every one of us surpassed ourselves. What my teams - but also everyone else - achieved is simply astounding. We grew together and mastered everything together; that was and is a wonderful feeling. I'm extremely proud of everyone involved.”

Conscientious care: Ulrike Leutwyler

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She was born near Stuttgart. After training to become a nurse, Ulrike Leutwyler raised her children and at the same time worked as a flute teacher, Spitex caregiver and playgroup leader. After a stint as a nurse in a gynecology practice in Westfield (New Jersey), she first worked in a rehabilitation clinic in Germany before joining the ORS group as a nurse practitioner in 2014. Between 2015 and the end of 2018, she managed the asylum centre in in Allschwil. Since 2019, she has been in charge of healthcare services for the four federal asylum centres in North-Western Switzerland.