IN times of crisis we often see the best in humanity manifest itself when individuals and the wider community rise to meet a challenge.

Such has been the case after the COVID alert in Mildura was raised to its highest level after it was confirmed that a COVID-positive case had presented to the Emergency Department at the Mildura Base Public Hospital (MBPH) almost two weeks ago.

MBPH CEO, Terry Welch said at that point, the Base put its COVID procedures into operation immediately, which led to 45 staff being tested for the virus and isolating while they awaited results.

This put intense pressure on the hospital’s capacity to deliver its services, but dedicated staff from other departments stepped up to fill the gap, in some cases working double shifts.

“I’ve called them heroes. I don’t use that term lightly but they have gone above and beyond. And, what I am most proud about is that we were able to put the plans in place and wind back those non-critical areas and those staff jumped across to help in other areas,” Mr Welch said.

“That’s our values on show, which are at the heart of this workplace and is what MBPH is all about and that is what has been most pleasing.”

Further to that, Mr Welch said that he has been overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit shown by the residents of Sunraysia.

“The spirit of Sunraysia, through this event in my eyes, has shone through like nothing else,” he said.

“This is the first emergency that I have managed here. I’ve managed big emergencies elsewhere and to see the generosity of spirit was amazing.

“We could have fed the staff 40 times over with the offers of food, messages of support, concerns over our staff’s wellbeing and I can’t describe what that means to the organisation.

“I really want to express my admiration and appreciation to the people of Mildura and the broader Sunraysia and Mallee region.

“Everyone should be really proud of how they do come together in these events.

“And the way we partnered with the Council, Sunraysia Community Health Services, and Swan Hill and Bendigo Health and of course the Department of Heath have been fundamental in guiding us along the way.

“We have to manage on the ground, but they give us that guiding support, and that is to be acknowledged as well.

“The community overall should be really proud of how everyone has responded.

“We have had some really beautiful messages of support and I sit back and say wow – this is really heartening and I think how do we keep that spirit going when we aren’t in a situation like this pandemic?”

When news came that a positive COVID case had been diagnosed in Mildura after a man presented to the Emergency Department of the Mildura Base Public Hospital (MBPH), the scenario that had been planned for, immediately swung into operation.

“Fifteen months of planning and learning from other sites and all of a sudden we get the call that we have a positive case,” Mr Welch said.

“We initiated the plans we have had in place since March 2020 and those plans have been evolving as we learn more from other experiences and advice from the Department of Health.

“The first priority is the care of the patient. We have a fundamental role to care for the patient and secondly, what is going to be the effect of this on our region?

“With what we are seeing right around our state and looking at what is happening in NSW, we know this virus spreads like wildfire and what is this going to mean for us in the short term, medium and long term? They were my immediate thoughts.”

Mr Welch said that the variability of a COVID case is a factor that the MBPH staff consider.

“We have plans in place for all of the standard procedures for managing the COVID situation, but what is very interesting is the variability around the impact of exposure sites in regard to staffing.

“We have always known that at some point if there was a positive COVID case, we would need to wind-back services to protect resources in critical areas.

“Our response procedures need to be adaptable and that is what I am so delighted about seeing how our teams have been able to adapt, sometimes hour-by-hour, to the evolving situation particularly as the exposure sites in Mildura were announced and identified.”

After the initial case was diagnosed, 45 hospital staff were in self – isolation, however it wasn’t long and that number rose to 55.

“This was very much a precautionary measure,” Mr Welch said. “Our staff are no different to the general community and so even with our precautions, the public health unit access every situation.

“The majority of those staff are now back working after returning negative results.”

Mr Welch said that those staff who were considered closer contacts, are doing a longer period of isolation.

“They’re doing the 14 days like everyone else in a Tier 1 scenario,” he said.

“With the Delta variant, the program from the public health unit has certainly been one of adopting absolute caution.

“The 45 didn’t surprise me in the sense that I could completely understand their caution.

“Since then it has been a moving situation on a day-to-day basis and so I don’t quote numbers we have ongoing people being tested and cleared.”

Mr Welch said that given the circumstances with staff being off-the-floor while isolating and waiting for test results, this had put pressure on the system.

“We still have some pressures there’s no question about that, but the resilience of the staff has shone through,” he said.

“Picture any business losing the volume of staff that we did in a window of around two hours and then you say ‘run the place’. From that point of view, what the staff did has been truly miraculous.”

From the outset of the first case being identified in Mildura Mr Welch said that he fully expected more cases to emerge in the coming days which proved to be right, but since then, the local outbreak seems to have been contained.

“I am delighted that it hasn’t spiraled into a bigger number,” he said.

“Every day when an exposure site list comes out I hold my breath and wonder what’s next and what’s that going to mean?

“As each day goes by and there aren’t any more cases in Mildura, I think we are all thankful that we haven’t seen a more serious outbreak here.

“The reality is, if you look across the state and see the situation in Sydney, then touch wood, we are really going well.”

– By John Dooley