Ministerial direction to open Covid ward

WARD OPENING DIRECTION: Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton has directed the Limestone Coast Local Health Network to look at all options to re-open the closed Covid-19 ward at the Mount Gambier and District Hospital.

Charlotte Varcoe

MINISTER for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton has directed the Limestone Coast Local Health Network to re-open the Covid-19 ward at the Mount Gambier and District Hospital.

Mr Picton met with the health network during his visit to the region last week to discuss options on how to best re-open it including transforming it into an infectious disease ward.

Since the Covid ward closed in May, seven patients have been transferred to Adelaide for treatment.

People with Covid but not requiring hospitalisation are able to be treated at the hospital’s emergency department triage tent.

Speaking with The Border Watch, Mr Picton said he understood the difficult decision made by the health network to close the ward, reiterating it only occurred due to continued staffing issues.

Mr Picton said an infectious disease ward to co-locate patients with Covid, influenza and other respiratory diseases was an option.

“Obviously this has caused significant disruption for people who have had to travel to Adelaide,” Mr Picton said.

“It has also placed additional pressure on Adelaide hospitals which are under significant pressure, so I have asked the health network board during my visit to explore every possible option to get the Covid ward back up and running as soon as possible.”

He said leading into the flu season, having the ward closed was of great concern and reiterated the importance of finding ways to enable it to be appropriately staffed.

“We know the Limestone Coast has been combating Covid cases on a steady basis and we know that has impacted staffing levels of the hospital because people are being furloughed,” Mr Picton said.

“We need to make sure that we explore every possible option and that is what I have asked the board to do because we know there are going to be more cases of Covid throughout winter and the board has also expressed their desire to re-open it as soon as possible.”

He said the health network would look into how staffing solutions of the infectious ward option would be possible and that he was eager to work with the board to address the issues.

“We clearly have vacancies in terms of nurses and other medical positions and we need to be working together as a system in terms of helping to fill those vacancies which I did discuss during my visit,” Mr Picton said.

“The reason for the lack of staff is a combination of factors including a significant number of people being furloughed at various times and a proportion of people falling ill as well.

“What we need to do now is try to attract and retain people to the area but there are a number of factors affecting that including housing…we also need to provide support right across the spectrum in terms of how we are attracting and retaining staff here at the hospital and I think there is a willingness from local government to work with us on how we can progress those recruitment strategies.”

He said the State Government had recently supported the Mount Gambier Hospital by sending staff from Adelaide to help ease the pressure from lack of staff.

“Having to send workers from Adelaide is costly and it is not a long term solution,” Mr Picton said.

“We need to do that long term planning to make sure we are graduating students and they are receiving the proper training needed.

“Short term solution wise, I have asked the health network board to consider every option and to make sure we can look at how quickly we can re-establish the services as we want to grow services in Mount Gambier and want the hospital to be a self-sufficient service which caters for its population as much as possible.”

Limestone Coast Local Health Network chief executive Ngarie Buchanan confirmed an option to re-open the Covid ward was to develop an infectious disease ward which would include the co-location of Covid-positive patients, influenza patients and other respiratory infections to streamline patient care.

“The Covid ward is a modern building with individual rooms for patients and separate air flow systems, which mitigate the spread of disease,” Ms Buchanan said.

“The emergency department model of care is being reviewed in relation to Covid patients and we will provide more information to the community on this and the dedicated emergency department marquee as soon as possible.”