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Annette Scott was immediately transferred from health response into a COVID executive role in the region when the outbreak occurred. It was not until March, 2020, when Australia experienced their first death in Queensland from COVID-19, that the crisis became ‘real’. Annette says that Australia had an insufficient understanding of the virus, its prevention and control measures, and the contagious nature of the virus forced the country to rapidly and intensely put in place all resources needed to support health facilities to respond to COVID-19.  

“We were getting hourly updates on information and we were learning as we went. We learnt an awful lot on personal protective equipment, in terms of the scale that we needed to ensure the safety of our health workforce”. 

While the healthcare system’s top priority is to provide optimal care for patients, it is also required to provide maximum safety for their staff, especially the operational workforce that included those bringing in meals and treating patients in COVID positive wards. To help healthcare providers reduce uncertainty and fear, Annette says that extra facilities were put in place to protect both the staff and patients in managing the COVID environment. This included negative pressure rooms and showers, specifically for staff in the frontline who encountered COVID positive patients. However, it was a challenge to maintain enough and consistent amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“When people understand and are reassured on how an approach will be taken and that there is someone to talk to or somewhere to go to to continue their careers amidst the virus, this will translate into a level of confidence and level of resilience in all workers. We want them to know that their safety is our utmost concern and so if they identify as vulnerable, we will manage them and put them in low risk areas away from harm’s way”.

“We were experiencing a global shortage of PPE because everywhere in the world was being impacted. We were all competing for stocks, and because most of our PPE stocks came from outside of Australia, we didn’t have an internal supply of surgical masks like the n92 respirator masks. We had to ensure that we had enough to send to high-risk areas”.

In the face of various challenges, health-care providers showed great strength and resilience. The healthcare system used a very strong support system to ensure that every staff in medical units were managed to an individual level. To Annette, it was highly important to reassure the workforce that there was individual recognition of their particular situations, and that their safety was also of priority. Annette says that bringing them into the whole planning process is also critical.

“When people understand and are reassured on how an approach will be taken and that there is someone to talk to or somewhere to go to to continue their careers amidst the virus, this will translate into a level of confidence and level of resilience in all workers. We want them to know that their safety is our utmost concern and so if they identify as vulnerable, we will manage them and put them in low risk areas away from harm’s way”.

ANHFP

Vulnerable staff were placed into alternate duty options. Doctors who weren’t comfortable to utilise their role in surgery were directed to answering hotlines that patients with concerns and queries would call. Annette believes that resilience was built through their ability to be agile and rapidly realign their business activities to suit the current environment. She says that the healthcare departments isolated suspected cases from the general populations through quarantined areas, separate access points and entrances. They reassured patients that they still had a place to go to if they needed a check up. 

Annette emphasised that agility, flexibility and rapid ability to adapt to change and generate mutual trust and support enhances resilience in the workplace. When mutual trust and respectful environments are developed, efficient communication is maintained, new procedures established and the role of individuals and teams are clarified; a sense of belonging will be fostered.  

“Resilience is linked critically to agile and flexible thinking. When we think about how we operate health services now, many industries - and depending on the product of that industry - can rethink how their business can be delivered, like healthcare services that thought about converting to a telehealth platform. Businesses can learn from our industry by focusing on how they’re going to implement a new business model to deliver their products moving forward”.