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Southern Cross Care dealing with risk

Thursday, 19th March, 2020

Southern Cross Care Broken Hill CEO Zoe Tonkin next to some of the key COVID-19 related health signs in the reception of St Anne’s Nursing Home. Visitors to SCC’s home will now be required to sign in when visiting residents and answer a couple of key screening questions. PICTURE: Callum Marshall Southern Cross Care Broken Hill CEO Zoe Tonkin next to some of the key COVID-19 related health signs in the reception of St Anne’s Nursing Home. Visitors to SCC’s home will now be required to sign in when visiting residents and answer a couple of key screening questions. PICTURE: Callum Marshall

By Callum Marshall

Southern Cross Care Broken Hill has sought to reassure residents, staff and the community that appropriate measures have been put in place at the local nursing homes to deal with COVID-19.

The message to the community followed an announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday that new restrictions were being put in place on visiting aged care homes because of the virus.

These included limiting visit times, allowing only two visitors once a day and no large groups, including schools, being allowed to visit.

Southern Cross Care Broken Hill CEO Zoe Tonkin said they’d already implemented a majority of what had been recommended by the federal government and would follow the other measures as well.

“A month ago we started to implement information for our staff and those travelling, just so that they were aware of the risks that could potentially unfold as this virus grows,” she said.

“We have implemented in the last 48 hours a stage one lockdown. 

“So we’ve introduced visiting hours which is something we’ve never had before. People have usually been able to come and go as they please.”

Part of that, said Ms Tonkin, was visitors having to sign in and answer a couple of screening questions.

“All visitors need to date and sign in,” she said.

“Part of that process is the screening questions - ‘have you travelled overseas in the last 14 days? Have you been in contact with someone that has been diagnosed with COVID-19?’

“If they answer ‘yes’ to either of those then they’re not permitted into our facilities.

“The purpose of that also is if we are in the unlikely event that we do have someone test positive then we’ll be able to backtrack and contact those people that have been in the facilities to let them know that we’ve had a positive.

“Then they can isolate themselves and do what they need to do.”

The visiting hours had also allowed staff to do additional cleaning on all the high-touch point areas during the quieter periods, said Ms Tonkin.

That included things like the door handles, hand-rails, the lift and stairs.

In terms of the government’s recommendations, she said the service had yet to put a ban on children and a limit on visitors but would now do so, with the latter not as pertinent an issue as the former given most residents only had about two visitors a day.

“The only thing that we haven’t put in place at the moment is the children visiting,” she said. “They’re recommending that children not visit aged care facilities.

“So that’s something we hadn’t really implemented yet, but as part of the government recommendations we’ll be implementing that today and recommend against that.

“We also hadn’t limited our visitors.  We wouldn’t have a lot of residents that would have more than two people visit at any one time.

“So that’ll be something that we’ll probably just monitor over the week or so and see.

“I’m hoping with all the media hype and all the information that’s now available - good information - that people will make the right decision and just not visit unless necessary.”

The service was also working closely with the appropriate health services and would be able to do their own testing.

“We’re working very closely with the public health unit with Far West Health,” said Ms Tonkin.

“We will be able to do our own testing here so swabbing of residents and staff should the need arise.

“We’re also working closely with the PHN (Primary Health Network) to look at respiratory clinics and stuff like that that we can have offsite from the hospital.

“And we’ve got some facilities around town that we might be able to support that so that the community have somewhere else to go which is away form that hospital environment.

“Because if this does hit then our hospitals will be needing to use all their resources to care for the sick.

“So we’ll continue to work closely and update the community as those things change.”

She said it was a stressful time for everyone.

“We have people that visit every day. People that sit with their loved ones all day. So it’s going to impact them,” she said.

To help deal with that, said Ms Tonkin, the service had lifestyle staff on each of the wings and across all the service’s facilities, organising things like activities, crafts and cooking.

There were also nurses keeping their eyes on residents regularly, she said, as well as all the appropriate technology - iPads, Skype, Facetime - and internet to make sure residents could still communicate with their families, friends and loved ones.

Ms Tonkin added that the service had done a lot of education with staff around COVID-19 including maintaining obvious hygienic practices such as cleaning, handwashing and maintaining personal hygiene.

“As of this week, we’ll have a registered nurse purely dedicated to infection control,” said Ms Tonkin.

“So she’ll monitor anything that changes as we go.”

On top of that, all the key information about staff having to self-isolate for 14 days if they’d returned from overseas and around unpaid and paid leave had also been relayed to staff, said Ms Tonkin.

“Our main focus is our residents and our staff (though),” she said.

“So we need to ensure that we keep them safe. That’s why the government is implementing these restrictions.”

People being properly educated about COVID-19 was key though, she said.

“I know they hype seems ludicrous. The toilet paper I don’t think anyone will understand. But be educated. Be safe,” said Ms Tonkin.

“I know that we don’t have a case in Broken Hill and I’m hoping that in a months’ time we’re still in a position to say the same thing. 

“But I feel people aren’t taking it serious enough and they need to look at what’s happened in other countries and how quickly this disease, this virus, is spreading. 

“It is scary and it is killing people. And our most vulnerable are the ones that we need to protect.”

If the virus got into an aged acre facility it would be horrific, she said.

“If it gets into these nursing homes I don’t know what we’ll do because most of these residents have not-for-resuscitation orders,” said Ms Tonkin.

“So if they were to get it they’ve already decided that they don’t want to be ventilated and incubated. 

“They’ve already made those decisions but they didn’t make those decisions based on a world-wide pandemic.

“For me, it’s very scary. 

“And we will reassess every day, throughout the day and every hour if we need to, we’ll change things to ensure we protect them.”

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