Physiotherapist Anna Urwin, with patient Gordon Stace, has been undertaking additional work in the Acute Ward at Wonthaggi Hospital to assist with pandemic pressures.


BASS Coast Health is in the second week of its ‘Code Brown’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting that all essential health services are continuing to be provided to the community.

But this would not have been the case if staff had not been redeployed from other areas.

In a statement from BCH on Friday, they said staff had been redirected across the health service to ensure priority services are adequately resourced and able to function.

BCH enacted its Code Brown Plan in response to the pressures the COVID pandemic was placing on the health service, particularly through staff shortfalls.

According to the hospital, some staff have contracted COVID or are close contacts of COVID cases, meaning they have had to isolate, on top of the existing staff vacancies felt by all health services.

“As a result of the extraordinary team efforts made by the BCH team, priority services have continued without disruption,” said BCH on Friday.

Theatre nurses have bolstered the nursing workforce in the Emergency Department, Acute Ward and Sub-acute Ward.

Other staff – such as Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Allied Health assistants – are working additional shifts on weekends and evenings to help with basic activity of daily living tasks to support nurses in the Acute and Sub-acute wards, and Emergency Department.

BCH CEO Jan Child said she couldn’t speak highly enough of the BCH teams who were working harder than ever, with longer hours and in different roles, to care for our community as the Omicron surge places pressure on the health service.

At the same time, she has been very quick to reassure the community that BCH is in a strong position to keep providing our much-needed services.

“We do not want people to be worried about seeking health care services, just because we have put our Code Brown Plan in place,” Ms Child said.

“The Code Brown signals to the community and the Department of Health that we are under pressure; it also ensures we can escalate our requests for help when – and if – we need it, and it allows us to implement our well-laid-out plans for business continuity when we have staff shortfalls,” she said.

“We are minimising some services to bolster those services that are critical in supporting our community through the coming weeks.”

Ms Child listed the services that were guaranteed to continue:

  • Emergency Department,
  • Urgent Care Centre,
  • Category 1 and Caesarean Theatre capacity,
  • Maternity Services
  • Cancer services,
  • Dialysis,
  • Inpatient Services,
  • Hospital in the Home (HITH),
  • Residential Care,
  • District Nursing,
  • Residential In Reach,
  • COVID testing and COVID vaccinations.

“The community should be reassured that their care in these services will continue to be available should they need it,” Ms Child said.

“We urge community members to present to our Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre if they require urgent or emergency medical attention.

“Don’t put off reaching out for medical support if you need it – that is the worst thing you could do. We are here for people who are experiencing urgent issues such as chest pain and fractures, and we can facilitate a COVIDSafe environment.”

It’s all about teamwork

Cait Castellan is a Theatre Nurse who has been assisting the nursing staff in the Emergency Department at Wonthaggi Hospital, while also remaining on-call to provide cover for obstetric and theatre procedures. “Emergency is a different experience because I’m an anaesthetic nurse. I’m enjoying the opportunity to learn new skills and to learn from others too,” she said.

Another Theatre Nurse, Kim Chetland, is also helping in the Emergency Department.

“I’ve been able to learn many skills as I’ve also worked in the Acute Ward, the COVID testing tent and the vaccination clinic at the Wonthaggi Town Hall,” she said.

Physiotherapist Anna Urwin has worked additional shifts, including at night and on weekends in the Acute Ward at Wonthaggi Hospital.

“It feels great that we can help the nursing staff in their time of high demand by assisting to dress patients and help patients to the toilet,” she said.

“Bass Coast Health is an extraordinary team. I feel very privileged to work in this great team and I can assure people that all of us are really committed to making sure we care for you well during these extreme times of pressure.”

Bass Coast Health is now:

  • Seeing more complex people in the ED and the UCC
  • Maintaining urgent category 1 surgery and caesareans only
  • Maintaining Sub-acute services at Wonthaggi Hospital to enable better flow and to support tertiary health services by returning local patients to care closer to home
  • Maintaining urgent Allied Health and Nursing outpatient appointments
  • Continuing Medical specialist outpatient appointments
  • Using Telehealth for all appointments except where face-to-face consultations are essential
  • Using alternative workforce for vaccination and testing
  • Providing additional support in HITH to support the COVID positive pathway patient program
  • Strengthening existing coordination within the sub-region, across Gippsland and with Metropolitan services.