Central Adelaide clinicians and educators have in recent weeks headed north to Port Augusta to assist the Flinders and Upper North Local Health Network’s (FUNLHN) COVID-19 response, passing on insights and learnings from CALHN’s own pandemic experience.
The community outbreak in Port Augusta has led to more than 1,000 people contracting COVID, including a significant number of cases within the Aboriginal community from Port Augusta and the APY Lands.
CALHN staff have worked with their FUNLHN colleagues, providing advice around infection control, COVID flows and to deliver nursing, medical and pharmacy support to alleviate their stretched workforce which was also impacted by COVID. CALHN also assisted in setting up a quarantine facility in the town.
CALHN COVID-19 Commander Rachael said it was important for CALHN to assist in regional responses to ensure care is provided as close to people’s homes as possible and to avoid adding pressure on metropolitan hospitals.
Rachael, who recently visited Port Augusta, said the strong community spirit and desire to help really stood out.
“There’s a connection to purpose and a willingness for everyone to pitch in regardless of their role,” Rachael said.
“The staff and community in Port Augusta work so well together but like CALHN were learning to manage COVID as it was their first significant outbreak in the region.”
Medical Lead of Acute and Urgent Care and the Clinical Advisor Lead at CALHN Dr Megan said the challenges FUNLHN faced were like the ones CALHN experienced in 2020.
“As a team we provided education about how to manage COVID and infection control requirements,” Megan said.
“Maria and Craig were superb in providing support doing an audit at the Port Augusta and Whyalla hospitals.
“What was really gratifying was the ability to pay forward what we’d benefitted from with interactions from our eastern states colleagues and offer that same support to regional south Australian colleagues.”
FUNLHN’s COVID-19 Nurse Lead for Acute Services Perri Harvey said they’ve been able to grasp onto the knowledge that CALHN has shared about its COVID response over the past two years.
“It’s been amazing; the expert knowledge of the CALHN staff has been second to none.
“Getting that metro perspective having dealt with COVID and you’ve lived it for two years and you’ve learnt lessons about how to manage it.
“That helps and gives us peace of mind and it’s about sustaining our workforce and keeping our staff safe.”
FUNLHN is now reviewing its COVID management plan based off CALHN insight and implementing changes including around their hospital zoning, PPE management and communication with staff.
CALHN has offered to support FUNLHN in providing additional education about managing COVID patients, including on the ground simulations.
“Being able to provide education to our staff will be incredible because as a region we’ve been missing out on that” Perri said.
“We’d like to thank all of CALHN for reaching out to provide extra support and offer that support moving forward, we really do appreciate it.
“We really hope to build that relationship between rural and metro not only for COVID patients but anyone presenting to our department.”
Clinical nurse Kristy is one of 9 CALHN staff to be mobilised to help with the Port Augusta response.
Arriving at the beginning of outbreak control in Port Augusta, Kristy was based at the Standpipe Hotel which was used as a temporary quarantine facility for people unable to isolate at home. She was also part of a team that supported 40 Aboriginal people from Port Augusta and the APY lands to isolate safely.
While Kristy was in Port Augusta the crossroads town experienced a massive flooding event which made the 12-hour days in full PPE at times “oppressive”.
Despite those challenges, Kristy enjoyed the experience and being part of a team responding to a dynamic situation.
“The Port Augusta community is a really nice bunch of friendly people,” Kristy said.
“The people that were isolating were the real stars; they just understood why they needed to keep themselves and their family safe.
“We problem solved as we went along and it was great meeting people across health, making contacts and friendships.
“This has really strengthened our ties and care for our community and we’ve received so much support from COVID Workforce Hub director Mirella.”
Kristy has gone to Port Augusta again, this time to support the local hospital by relieving staff.
A team of CALHN ED nurses led by Skye will also be deployed to the APY lands to support the COVID outreach work there while CALHN has also assisted in Ceduna and in Marla.