Private hospitals staff are playing their part in Victoria's COVID-19 response, bringing the positive message that “we can get through this” as lockdown restrictions ease.
The state has started opening up again after vaccination levels in people aged 16 years and over reached the 80 percent threshold, but infections are still high.
Epworth HealthCare has deployed a dedicated COVID-19 ward at one of its Melbourne hospitals, while Ramsay Health Care has more than 100 of its staff volunteering for pandemic duties in the city.
Epworth Richmond has set aside 10 beds in its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID-19 patients, while 20 beds have been provided in a dedicated ward.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with the Department of Health as part of the statewide response,” Epworth Group Chief Executive Dr Lachlan Henderson said.
“At the peak of Victoria’s second wave last year, Epworth treated about 50 COVID-19 patients in our hospitals, and it is important to provide this support to the community again.”
Epworth has also signed an agreement with the Department of Health to take non-COVID patients from public hospitals in Melbourne and Geelong, including use of the recently-refurbished ICU at Epworth Freemasons. The group is also continuing to provide urgent elective surgery for private patients in the greatest need.
“People are still having heart attacks, strokes, accidents and medical issues that require urgent treatment and surgery,” Dr Henderson said.
“Epworth is supporting the public system by enabling some urgent public medical and surgical procedures to be carried out at our hospitals.”
Meanwhile, Ramsay Health Care – Australia's largest private provider – has reported that its staff were relishing the chance to once again help out in Victoria's response, as many of its workforce have also done in New South Wales and Queensland.
Of the 100-plus who put up their hands to help in Melbourne, 34 are supporting residential aged care facilities and the rest are assisting at other Ramsay hospitals caring for public patients.
One group of nurses, from The Avenue Hospital in the inner-city, said their experience this year had been more positive than during the outbreaks in 2020.
“When we were asked to support patients in residential aged care again, we reflected on the chaos, fear and uncertainty which all four of us experienced last year,” Sarah Fitzpatrick, Becky Cox, Lizzie Jones and Gurwinder Sran said in a joint statement.
“We’d all been involved in different COVID support services and witnessed some heartbreaking scenes – and although we were more than happy to help this time, we did have some trepidation based on our experience last year.”
The nurses said they had found support services to be better prepared – from training to personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies – and praised their patients for also doing their part.
“This time is different. There is no chaos, PPE is of a high standard and plentiful, and the staff are trained and super friendly and helpful,” they said.
“The biggest difference though is the residents. They are vaccinated and even if they have COVID, they are generally not symptomatic, and most amazingly they’re not as scared.
“There is less fear and anxiety and there’s definitely a wonderful resolve that we’ve done it tough before – we can do it tough again!
“Although we never expected to be back in red zones with sore noses and dehydration from wearing PPE, we’re so glad to be involved and providing care to those who need it.
“Things are different, there is hope – we will get through this!”
Dr Henderson urged people to support healthcare workers by getting vaccinated.
“We know patient numbers will increase as we come out of lockdown,” he said.
“The best way the community can help is by booking in an appointment to receive a vaccination at their GP, pharmacy or state-run vaccination hubs.”
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