By Tracey Matthies

WHEN Nina Smith woke with a nasty cough and feeling quite unwell earlier this month, her first thought was that she needed to get tested for COVID-19.

It was a natural reaction in the wake of months of messaging from the government and media.

Sadly, the reality for Nina was not that simple but her concerns have now reached the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and by speaking out, Nina has saved others from going through the same trauma.

The good news first – Nina tested negative for the virus.

The bad news – misinformation and a delay in providing regional Victorians with the same level of service as metropolitan Melbourne meant as a person with disabilities and living alone in Leongatha, Nina endured days of distress and isolation before she could get tested.

If Nina lived in metropolitan Melbourne, testers would have come to her home under the Call-To-Test service.  The home testing service was finally rolled out to regional Victoria yesterday, Monday, September 14, weeks after it was made available in Melbourne.

As soon as her symptoms appeared, Nina informed her close contacts, including her elderly mother, and carer, Melinda Meade, telling them to stay away until she was tested and got her results.

But Nina had no way of travelling the one kilometre to the nearest testing site at the Leongatha hospital so she spoke with her disability support coordinator who operates under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

She got a referral for a home test from her doctor and her disability support coordinator spent the rest of the day on the phone trying to arrange a home test.

“Outcome – the region wasn’t set up for home tests,” Nina wrote in a letter to the Sentinel-Times about her experience.

“Solution – one of my support coordinator’s colleagues, who is trained in PPE, [travelled] one hour to take me to the so-called state-of-the-art Leongatha Hospital which cannot do home testing.

“I am legally blind and have had multiple brain bleeds which have left me with mental health conditions, and I am now in the hands of a complete stranger.  Can you imagine how I feel?”

The Department of Health and Human Services website confirmed Call-To-Test was not available in regional Victoria at the time.

To make matters worse, it took until last Wednesday for Nina to learn she had been given the wrong information and should have been able to be tested at home.

Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien followed up Nina’s concerns and told her he had spoken with Gippsland Southern Health Service chief executive Mark Johnson “and it would appear someone has given you the wrong information”.

“I am assured by the hospital that it can indeed arrange for someone to come and take a COVID-19 test in the home where necessary,” Mr O’Brien told Nina via email.

“I have spoken to other local hospitals who have also advised they can do this. If you need another one [test] or know anyone in a similar position, please call the hospital direct and … you can advise that Mr Johnson has told you to do this.”

Nina told The Sentinel-Times the whole process was exhausting and distressing.

Melinda made contactless food drops so Nina could eat but Nina was otherwise alone with only her guide dog Nixon for company and comfort.

“The whole process was distressing because there was no set process,” Nina said.

“We are in a pandemic. The fact that I can’t easily get home-tested just because I live in regional Victoria is unbelievable and extremely concerning.

“Our services down here are so good, there is no reason we can’t do this. That’s why I’m speaking up.”