AN infectious disease ward has opened at the Mount Gambier and Districts Hospital, replacing what was previously the Covid-19 treatment ward.
The Covid-19 ward originally opened in November before suddenly closing in May due to ongoing staffing issues.
Its closure prompted a swift response from Health and Wellbeing Minister Chris Picton, who directed the Limestone Coast Local Health Network to reopen the ward.
One of these options was to replace the Covid ward with an infectious disease ward – a first for the main regional hospital.
Opening on Wednesday, 10 beds are now available for patients requiring medical care for either Covid or influenza as well as other respiratory diseases, with six more due to become available later.
A total of three nursing staff would be working in the ward per shift to begin with, and an additional staff member will be added when the other beds open.
There remains more than 30 full time equivalent nursing staff vacancies at the hospital as well as a further 17 full time equivalent medical staff.
At the beginning of June the hospital was also operating with a shortage of about 70 full time equivalent staff.
Health network chief executive Ngarie Buchanan said the extra six beds would be added once staffing levels stabilise.
“The Covid ward was put into place because we could locate a number of people in a certain area in a safe environment and with the infectious diseases expected to rise over winter we will now relocate people with those diseases into that ward as well,” Ms Buchanan said.
“We have always wanted to reopen the Covid ward and we had to close it in the first place due to being significantly down in staff.
“We could not put our patients at risk due to these low staffing numbers and we couldn’t expect our staff to manage the area or put any more pressure on them.
“The other reason we had to close the ward was the number of staff furloughed due to Covid or their family having Covid, it was just a double-whammy for us really.”
She said the ward would have each patient separated into single rooms with specific air conditioning systems in place to prevent the spread of the disease.
“The ward will consist of patients of both Covid and influenza and will be separated with all single rooms, the air conditioning has been changed to ensure the diseases don’t spread elsewhere in the hospital and the ward is in the newer part of the hospital so it has been easier to do,” Ms Buchanan.
“Each room will then be further isolated and that is not only the air conditioning system but also staff, who will be protected with the personal protective equipment they have to use.”
Ms Buchanan said should staffing issues happen again in the ward, the network would find workers from the hospital and community, allowing patients to be managed within the community if able.
The chief executive said as for the future, the network would monitor the need for the ward and decide whether it would be an ongoing system or seasonal.
Ms Buchanan also stated the network believed the total number of 16 beds would be sufficient for predicted infectious rates with the hospital able to administer medication and manage patients outside of the hospital.
“A lot of work has gone into this and in some cases we are able to manage the cases in the community rather than bringing them into the hospital,” she said.
Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said he supported the re-opening of the ward after raising the issue with Mr Picton earlier this month.
“I raised the closure of the Covid ward with Mr Picton as an increasing number of local people were being transported to Adelaide for care and I am pleased that the Minister has listened to our concerns,” Mr Bell said.
“Sending patients to Adelaide for specialist care will still be available, however we should always be aiming to provide care as close to home and family support whenever possible.”
Patients may still require transportation to Adelaide for further treatment depending on their condition including oxygen levels and blood pressure.