By Shelby Brooks
BASS Coast Health has prepared a pandemic plan in case the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation escalates, with two separate areas set up at Cowes and Wonthaggi to screen patients who may have the virus.
The isolated assessment clinics at the Wonthaggi Hospital and Phillip Island Health Hub opened on Thursday for patients suspected of having COVID-19 as Bass Coast Health (BCH) prepares for the situation to “heat up” across the region.
There have also been reports of people taking hand sanitiser bottles from the hospital – which the healthcare service has urged people not to do for the safety of staff members.
BCH chief medical officer Dr Renee Kelsall is expecting the number of people seeking medical attention for suspected cases of COVID-19 to increase in the coming weeks, so an isolated ward was essential for the hospital, she said.
The assessment clinic at the Wonthaggi Hospital will streamline the process of patients who believe they may have the virus.
Prior to last Thursday, people who wanted
to be assessed for the virus had to
walk through the hospital to the emergency department.
“We want to reduce the potential contamination of people who may have coronavirus to other hospital patients,” Dr Kelsall said.
BCH CEO Jan Child said it was vital that the processes in place for people who may have coronavirus was clear to the public and obvious for anyone visiting the hospital – including phoning ahead if they were planning on presenting at either clinic.
They would then be met by a nurse who will provide a facemask and direct the person to wash their hands and sign in before being taken to the assessment clinic.
The sign-in process ensures the hospital can contact anyone who may have been in contact with the patient, Dr Kelsall said.
The health service’s chief medical officer is also choosing not to shake hands at the moment, as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), with their website stating “shaking hands is optional!”
“Not shaking hands is really something that has come out in the last week from the DHHS,” she said.
The virus is spread via droplets. So when a patient with coronavirus coughs or sneezes on a surface and someone touches it, the virus can spread.
“The easiest way to protect yourself and your family is to wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth and nose with your elbow when coughing or sneezing.”
But Dr Kelsall wanted to reassure everyone to be cautious, but not panic.
“We’re having regular meetings on a daily basis as a health network to make sure the key messages are getting out there,” she said.
“We’re working within the sub region to come up with a plan that’s changing day by day.
“At the moment we’re doing really well with supplies, but we have a contingency plan so we have enough ongoing,” she said.
“We have had some people from the public taking the hand gel, so we want to remind people not to do that, so we have it in places that are essential to protect staff.”
In the event of an increase in patients with respiratory symptoms, Bass Coast Health has additional medical supplies, including gloves, hand sanitiser, and masks.
“We are asking our community to use only what is required at the time of their visit as there is a risk of supplies running low if the general public are taking multiple items,” said Dr Dan Crompton, BCH director of emergency medicine.
The separate areas established at the Phillip Island Health Hub and Wonthaggi Hospital have been set up to screen patients who have a fever, shortness of breath or cough and have travelled overseas in the past 14 days or had contact with someone with coronavirus (COVID-19).
Patients with respiratory symptoms who plan to present to the Wonthaggi Hospital or Phillip Island Health Hub are asked to phone ahead on 5671 3333 (Hospital) or 5951 2101 (Health Hub).
Unless seeking medical treatment, people are asked to not attend non-urgent appointments if they have flu-like symptoms.
In line with directives from the Department of Health and Human Services, any healthcare worker or residential aged care worker who has been in the four higher risk countries (mainland China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea) in the previous 14 days has been asked not to attend work until they have been well for 14 days after leaving those countries.
Call the DHHS coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398 if you suspect you may have the virus.