In the eye of the storm
When Victoria experienced its second wave of coronavirus in July, Wyndham in Melbourne’s southwest was right in the eye of the storm. At Werribee Mercy Hospital, which is located in the centre of this region, staff have been working tirelessly and selflessly to provide compassionate care for people who have contracted the virus, and their families.
Staff in the Werribee Mercy Hospital Emergency Department (ED), Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and dedicated coronavirus wards were at the frontline of the response to the relentless and deadly new virus. Every member of the hospital and organisation has been involved in the response: doctors, nurses, allied health, food services staff, cleaners, support services staff and executives. For ICU Nurse Unit Manager Joanne Pickford, her focus was on making sure the unit could cope with a surge in demand, with adequate staffing to provide patients with the best possible care.
“At the start, we weren’t quite sure what to expect,” says Joanne, “but when patients began to come in, staff just went about their business giving them the best care. It was amazing.”
The work was intense, with many ICU staff doing 12-hour shifts. At one point, nearly all of the beds in the ICU and coronavirus wards were occupied with patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus. “We were flat out day in, day out. Our routine was: go home, have a shower, sleep and come back to work,” Joanne says.
“Some days we were just overwhelmed,” she continues. “Normally, nurses can sit in a room with a patient and comfort them but we couldn’t do that with coronavirus patients because our staff had to minimise exposure to the virus. Within those restrictions, we did as much as we possibly could to provide the best care.”
The highly contagious nature of the virus made it especially difficult to provide company and comfort for patients who were losing their battle with the virus. In spite of this, Mercy Health made it a priority to support families to safely say goodbye to their loved ones in person.
“It was all about caring for the patient and showing them full respect and dignity.”
ICU staff also facilitated phone and video calls between patients and their families and provided families with regular medical updates on the progress of their loved ones. Joanne says communication between the patient, family and hospital was exceptionally important, particularly in such difficult circumstances. “We worked very hard to make that happen,” she says.
Looking back on this extraordinary time, Joanne will always remember the exemplary way staff came together and supported each other. “At the height of the crisis and with all of the difficulties we faced — staff being furloughed, strict hygiene and social distancing measures — the way everyone pulled together to keep the unit functioning was amazing. For them, despite the strain they were under, it was all about caring for the patient and showing them full respect and dignity.”
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