From nurses to cleaners, Western Health takes us inside Footscray and Sunshine hospitals to meet some of the staff on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are the soldiers in this war,” says Joyce Dalde. The nurse unit manager at Sunshine Hospital’s Ward 3F – the COVID-19 ward – heads up a team of 50.
“This is the time where we have to work as a team, we have to look after each other and at the same time we are trying to do this [job],” Ms Dalde said.
“We have to vigilant, we have to be guided by the infection prevention and the respiratory physicians, as well as the infectious disease physicians.”
The Maribyrnong resident urged members of the community to continue to follow directives to stay home.
“We are asking everyone to stay at home, but for us, we are leaving home to look after our patients because we care so much for our community,” Ms Dalde said.
“We are the soldiers in this war and we are in the battlefield at this stage and need to look out for each other.
“This is nursing – we are here to nurture. They ask me how many kids I have and I say I’ve got 50 here … 50 staff members.
“I am really really proud to be at Western Health. The amount of support they have given to staff plus the planning in preparation and how they make their staff feel safe to look after COVID patients, that’s really important to me”
When COVID-19 first broke out, there was a lot of confusion, says Siphoi Tran.
The radiographer at Footscray Hospital describes how the coronavirus crisis impacted her workplace.
“When it first started, I think there was a lot of confusion with staff because we were getting a lot of emails about COVID,” she said.
“Because the situation was always changing, a lot of our staff were confused with the right things to do.
“It induced a little bit of anxiety when it first started.
“I think now with the [staff] bulletins, and in medical imaging we also have a daily bulletin, it has improved the communication.
“At first it was hectic but now that there are processes in place, it’s a lot better.”
She said the hospital’s ‘wellness hubs’ and “a lot of encouraging words” for staff had helped with mental health.
“It can be hard to be that perky happy self, especially when there are lot of things that you look forward to outside of work that have been taken away from you,” Ms Tran said.
“We still encourage people to take annual leave – obviously it’s good for mental health purposes.
“A lot of our staff have been generous in not taking leave and working to help each other out.
“When it first started we had a lot of shifts that needed covering and people stepped up and helped each other out.”
Her parents, with whom she lives in St Albans, were at first a little nervous about her working in a hospital during COVID-19.
“But over time they have come to accept it,” Ms Tran said.
“They know I come to work and get changed and then change to come home again and clean everything down at the end of the day.
“To be honest, they haven’t said much – I think because of the curve flattening now it’s reduced the anxiety.
“They were more anxious about me getting it then me spreading it to them.”
Some positives have emerged from the dire situation, Ms Tran said.
“It has slowed everyone’s lives down a little bit,” she said.
“I know, for me personally, I’ve had more time to slow down and have more of a routine.
“Because of the shifts in radiology, we have three distinct shifts to reduce the overlap of the team and this has given us more routine.”
Melton’s Michael Woods is environmental services supervisor at Sunshine Hospital, responsible for keeping the place clean and sanitary.
While his family harboured concerns for his wellbeing, Mr Woods said Western Health had been well prepared for COVID-19.
“They [my family] do have concerns for me because of my age,” the 63 year old said.
“But I just told them that we put all the practices into place – the guidelines we’ve been given – and I feel safe.
“I think they’ve [Western Health] done a wonderful job.
“Everything seems to be under control.
“We’ve got good leadership and, in environmental services here, we’re getting good back-up from our all our employees. It’s been very very good I think.”
Mr Woods said when the crisis was over, his team would be relieved.
“I think at the end of it we’ll have a lot of joy and happiness,” he said.
“Everyone will be relieved, and I think team spirit will be right up there when this is all done.”
Altona North’s Carmen Camilleri hasn’t seen her grandchildren or children during COVID-19 because of her work in a hospital.
The ward clerk in palliative care at Sunshine Hospital said her daughter was the most worried in her family.
“My daughter was more concerned than anyone else because she’s got a three-month-old baby,” Ms Camilleri said.
“So, about five weeks ago when all this started, we sort of stayed away from my grandchildren and my children. I don’t visit and they don’t visit.”
She said the team spirit among her colleagues had remained high.
“We are a good team,” Ms Camilleri said.
“I don’t think we’ve gone better or worse because we were always like that. We seem to support each other all the time.
“The positive is we look out for each other.
“The wellness hub is fantastic, I found, and you get that bit of time away from the ward.
“We talk about normal everyday things – it’s not sort of in our faces all the time. Because, you switch the TV on, and it’s in your face every minute of the day. I think that the hub was a very good idea and I would recommend it to other staff members.”
Sydenham’s Bronwyn King handles communications and the switchboard at Footscray Hospital.
She said being in Australia, the health system had more time than some other countries.
“I think we are really well prepared,” she said. “We are lucky as we live in Australia – we have had time to prepare.”
She described the camaraderie among colleagues as “pretty good”.
Initially, her family held concerns about her being at work, but had since come around.
“They are fine, really,” Ms King said.
“They are all at home. At first they were worried, but not really anymore.”
She said a positive to emerge from the coronavirus was that people were reaching out to each other.
“Everyone is communicating a lot more and talking to each other – it’s nice to see.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Western Health is running a COVID community campaign under #ItsUpToUs. To find out ways you can support health care workers, visit: itsuptous.com.au/