Limestone Coast health system under pressure

Elsie Adamo

THE number of patients with Covid-19 at the Mount Gambier Hospital is fluctuating between six and nine, according to Limestone Coast Local Health Network (LCLHN) governing board chair Grant King.

“We have capacity for more, [but] we would be hopeful that we do not get to many more,” Mr King said.

“There are also people being managed in their homes through the community response team.”

While Mr King said the hospital’s Covid ward is well within its capacity, with flexibility to add further beds, there would come a point where help from metropolitan hospitals would be needed.

On Wednesday, Premier Steven Marshall announced Covid patient capacity in Adelaide hospitals would be increased by 500 beds.

“Overall the State is working as a State, and I think it should as a single system,” he said.

“The metro should be supporting the regions, and the regions should be supporting the metro; we are all as one and we need to work that way.

“More beds in Adelaide is good for the whole of the State…metropolitan hospitals have their capacity increased to basically take the bulk of the load.”

Mount Gambier Hospital is the only one in the Limestone Coast taking in Covid positive patients, to limit any risk to the aged care facilities attached to all other hospitals in the region.

Like many other industries, staff shortages are also impacting the LCLHN with Mr King estimating around 70 staff members are currently not working due to being a close contact, or Covid positive themselves.

“Take 70 people out of our staff, that is about five per cent of the total workforce, so it is not an insignificant number,” he said.

“I think yes we have to acknowledge that people are under pressure but managing.”

Mr King said the LCLHN may need further support and backup by the State if the situation worsens.

“Our people have done a wonderful job, but it is relentless,” he said.

“There is a lot of hard work being done on the front line, and community members appreciate that.”

Health facilities in the region are subject to Covid Status (CoSTAT) levels, which Mr King said is in response to the severity of presentations across the community.

CoSTAT 1 is the lowest level, and CoSTAT 5 is the highest.

The LCLHN is currently subject to CoSTAT 4 protocols.

“CoSTAT 1 is basically no community transmission and pretty much business as usual but we are being careful none-the-less,” Mr King said.

“CoSTAT 5 [is] where there would be potentially overwhelming community transmission, significant presentations and inpatients, and a need to be very focused and careful about how we go.”

Mr King said the CoSTAT level may be elevated to level 5 if case numbers continue to increase.

“If we do reach a peak then that might mean that we will need to go to another level, which simply means that we will be much more focused in terms of what we do and how we treat people,” he said.

“I think we have planned as well as we can, I think we are managing as well as we can and hopefully it will not get too much worse.”

While Covid case numbers in the Limestone Coast continue to increase, there are fears positive cases are slipping through the reporting cracks, leading to inaccuracy.

“I think it is reasonable to assume that not everybody with a symptom has been tested, therefore it is quite possible that there are people in the community that are not counted in those numbers,” Mr King said.

Those in the region attempting to be tested have been subject to long wait times for PCR tests and no reliable source to buy rapid antigen tests (RATs).

When stock arrives, RATs will be available free to concession card holders and symptomatic close contacts but anyone else needing a test will be paying for it themselves.

“I think if the RAT tests are going to be an important part of managing this disease they ought to be available to people,” Mr King said.

“I can recall the Federal Government saying at some stage that we are all in this together, and in my view that means if we are all in this together than we ought to all be able to access services at the same and equal level.”

Local pharmacies and supermarkets are hoping to have RATs back in stock within a fortnight.

Mr King is encouraging the community to keep appropriate social distancing and hygiene practices front of mind.

“It is sort of back to the community now to be a bit careful,” he said.

“Look after our own hygiene, wear our masks, be very aware of the social circumstances we have put ourselves in, and back off a bit until we get over this hump.”

As of Thursday there were 1675 active cases registered within Limestone Coast Local Government Areas (LGAs) according the SA Health’s Covid-19 Heatmap.

This is just under a 183 per cent increase in case numbers from the previous Thursday on January 5.