It was a Saturday afternoon and Beda Andrews was enjoying her day off from Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital’s Emergency Department when the acting Nurse Unit Manger received a phone call to say there was an incident at work. She immediately returned to work, where she joined Acting Director of ED, Dr Andrew (Andy) Brown, and together the pair swung into action to face one of the department’s toughest challenges.
The incident was a staff member diagnosed with COVID-19 and the pair’s immediate priority was the welfare of their colleagues. They needed to quickly identify staff who had been in contact with the affected team member and have them isolate at home. Immediately the ED lost about 18 staff working that day as they quarantined at home. Andy and Beda then needed to find staff to cover their shifts.
What followed over the course of the next 24-48 hours was hundreds of phone calls to affected staff, welfare checks and working with their ED colleagues to ensure the department continued to run smoothly and be able to care for patients.
They also needed to identify patients who had been in contact with the COVID positive staff member and assist the NSLHD Public Health Unit to start contact tracing.
"It was a race against time because our priority was the welfare of our staff. We wanted to tell them first-hand about what had happened before it was made public," Beda said.
"I remember calling staff to tell them (they needed to isolate) and there was a lot of shock."
Setting up an incident control centre away from the main ED floor, the pair worked the phones while they were supported on the floor by Clinical Nurse Manager Tristan Miller and Dr Stephen Kearney who managed the department. Dr Felicia Kwok began to oversee the rostering logistics, ED Clerical Supervisor Justine McMahon supported the team, while COVID After Hours Nurse Manager Carolyn Opie and After Hours hospital executive Adrienne Stern assisted the ED in the crucial first few hours.
"My focus had always been on responding to a patient who had COVID and the influx of patients so it was a lot of a shock when it was a colleague,’’ Beda said.