Running a hospital during COVID-19

I have struggled with how to present these stories now as the fast paced re-openings and lifting of restrictions causes us to forget what it was like only a month or two ago. So here are a few reminders:)

April 26
1,030 cases: The Premier announces the first easing of restrictions, with drives of up to 50 kilometres from home and family picnics allowed, along with other recreational activities (such as non-essential shopping) to be allowed from Saturday, May 2. 

May 4
1,038 cases: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces a partial resumption of classes, with kindergarten, prep and years 1, 11 and 12 to return to school from May 11. Other students are to follow from May 25.

May 7
1,045 cases: From Mother’s Day, Sunday May 10, up to five people from one household are to be allowed to visit another household as contact restrictions are further eased.

May 8
Pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes will be permitted to reopen from Saturday, May 16, for up to 10 patrons, the Premier announces. This is the first of a three-stage process designed to further ease social distancing restrictions and restart the Queensland economy.

Six weeks ago right in the middle of homeschooling, $2M of fines being handed out as easing of restrictions begin and cases were around 1000, we had an opportunity to chat to Ray Fairweather the CEO of St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital.

Have you ever experienced a pandemic or anything large scale like this before?
No, I’ve never experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic before in terms of the impact upon a hospital. SARS generated a lot of action in planning however never eventuated as a widespread pandemic throughout the community.

What does one do to plan or train for something like this?
Hospitals are well versed and prepared in managing patients with infectious diseases, it is part of our core business. COVID-19 is highly infectious and the rate of transmission of the virus compared to other viruses is the problem. In the case of COVID-19, hospitals rely upon the public health units at a local and state level for advice and information and are guided by the public health agencies.

Have you spoken to any other hospitals in other countries? Any other Dr’s or CEO’s?
From the outset of COVID-19, there were frequent meetings with the managers of the public hospital and other private hospitals in Toowoomba, government agencies (i.e. Police, Ambulance, Education &, PHN) – meetings were held twice a week and as the issues settled down, meetings were held on an as needed basis. Doctors have been in regular contact as core hospital services continued, it was only elective surgery Category 3 and non-urgent Category 2 that were cancelled.

How do you feel the Aust Gov, State Gov, Toowoomba has handled this?
I think all levels of Government have handed the situation very well. You only have to compare our statistics at a Toowoomba level, Queensland level and at a National level to confirm our handling of the situation has been very good.

Has there been an unexpected upside to this or society in general?
I think we now have an appreciation in terms of personal hygiene how everyone can assist with reducing the transmission of COVID-19 – hand washing, social distancing, staying at home when someone is sick etc.

Has their been any frustrations eg: closing down part of the hospital – especially now that we have done a great job in flattening the curve?
Standing staff down was a frustration albeit necessary at the time. Not knowing at the time how the pandemic would play out was concerning. There are over 600 staff employed at St Andrew’s and over 370 doctors with visiting rights to the hospital so the impact across the hospital was huge.

If there is a second wave do you feel you are more prepared?
I doubt there is going to be a second wave given we have the borders closed down to Australia. At a local level, we continue to limit the number of entrances to the hospital and screen every person entering the hospital (i.e. patients, staff doctors & visitors). It will be interesting to see what happens when restrictions are gradually eased in the future and furthermore, the winter months are approaching where we experience the traditional influenza season.

What is one thing you will always remember about this time?
Locking down the hospital, standing down staff and trying to keep everyone focused and motivated on the task at hand.

What is one thing that you miss right now?
Being able to return to Inverell (NSW) to visit my 91-year old mother.

What have you been doing to keep yourself and your family busy?
I have spent most weekends here at St Andrew’s endeavouring to keep on top of things and “steering the boat” in the right direction during challenging times. My family have been very understanding and supportive – they are also aware I am retiring mid-late August 2020 when hopefully this pandemic is over.

What is one good thing that you hope will happen after this is all over?
People understand the importance of personal hygiene and also, never take anything for granted and that includes your job and earning a wage.

What is the first thing you are going to do when it is all over?
Visit my mother.

When we walked through the door at the hospital we were told our temperatures. I thought that was great so took a shot of Kris exiting as a reminder.

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