The Walcha MPS pandemic plan is in place

HNEH says it is ready for COVID-19 demand

The Hunter New England Health (HNEH) District is ready for an increase in demand for high-level care as a result of COVID-19 Susan Heyman - HNEH executive director of rural and regional health services has told Australian Community Media.

Ms Heyman said local health professionals had been working on a pandemic plan since January.

"Walcha, like our other facilities, has done pandemic planning, she said.

"We are very fortunate we haven't had a COVID-19 inpatient in Walcha yet, but it is probably only just a matter of time."

The plan outlines that someone concerned about being COVID-19 positive would be asked a series of questions to ascertain if they are in one of the risk groups.

Susan Heyman HNEH director of operations for rural and regional health services

Susan Heyman HNEH director of operations for rural and regional health services

If staff then decide the person meets the criteria for testing, they would be isolated in a room away from other patients and swabbed using appropriate protective equipment.

"Staff have been trained to keep both themselves and the patient safe," said Ms Heyman.

"If they are clinically stable and their symptoms are minor, they would go home and be told to self isolate until their tests results came back and once their tests come back, they are contacted by our public health unit who keep in regular touch with them.

"If they are positive, but still well, they can self isolate at home and have regular daily contact from us so that if they deteriorate someone is keeping an eye on them who can quickly escalate them to the appropriate care they want."

HNEH is also in charge of contact tracing and can work with local police to ensure self-isolation is carried out.

"Once a person is identified as testing COVID-19 positive then we sit down with them remotely and go through where they have been, who they have talked to, and we develop a list of the people they may have had contact with and to who they have potentially passed it on to," Ms Heyman said.

"Those people are then contacted and are isolated and tested."

We are very fortunate we haven't had a COVID-19 inpatient in Walcha yet, but it is probably only just a matter of time

Susan Heyman - HNEH executive director rural and regional health services

Someone in Walcha who has tested positive and has been at home but is getting unwell can go into the Walcha MPS for treatment until they need higher-level care Ms Heyman said.

"They will be treated at the Walcha MPS and then, like any other condition, if they deteriorate, we would escalate them to another facility that can care for them at that higher level.

"Now, that may be Armidale, but it would most likely be Tamworth because Tamworth Base Hospital has the intensive care facilities that they might need.

"That is what we do now."

Australia COVID-19 patients seem to be experiencing less severe symptoms Ms Heyman said, and the preparation HNEH has done should be enough to cope with the demands presented by the Coronavirus pandemic across her area.

We have everything that is needed, and we have outlined the triggers for when it will be introduced

Susan Heyman - HNEH executive director regional and rural health services

"What is evident in Australia is that we have a higher to moderate level of people who are mildly unwell with COVID-19 than what has occurred across some of the other countries which have horrified everyone," she said.

"As part of the preparation and planning for COVID-19 management we have mapped out,with a staged introduction approach, what the existing capacity is and what the surge capacity is.

"So we've been able to identify the physical space, the equipment and the workforce we would need to increase the capacity."

Ms Heyman said she was confident Tamworth Base Hospital was able to cope with the increased demand for high-level care and that capacity will increase in line with demand when it is required.

"We've done all the preparation: we've purchased additional equipment; we've identified the additional staff required; we've trained additional staff; we've done some of the capital works needed in terms of changing some of the spaces, the rooms, the walls, the running of gas and oxygen lines," she said.

"We have everything that is needed, and we have outlined the triggers for when it will be introduced."

Read more: