The Hunter New England Health (HNEH) District is ready for an increase in demand for high-level care as a result of COVID-19 Susan Heyman - HNEH executive director of rural and regional health services has told Australian Community Media.
Ms Heyman said local health professionals had been working on a pandemic plan since January.
"Tamworth Base Hospital, like our other facilities, has done pandemic planning, she said.
The plan outlines that someone concerned about being COVID-19 positive would be asked a series of questions to ascertain if they are in one of the risk groups.
If staff then decide the person meets the criteria for testing, they are isolated in a room away from other patients and swabbed using appropriate protective equipment.
Staff have been trained to keep both themselves and the patient safe
"Staff have been trained to keep both themselves and the patient safe," said Ms Heyman.
"If they are clinically stable and their symptoms are minor, they will go home and be told to self isolate until their tests results came back and once their tests come back, they are contacted by our public health unit who keep in regular touch with them.
"If they are positive, but still well, they can self isolate at home and have regular daily contact from us so that if they deteriorate someone is keeping an eye on them who can quickly escalate them to the appropriate care they want."
HNEH is also in charge of contact tracing and can work with local police to ensure self-isolation is carried out.
"Once a person is identified as testing COVID-19 positive then we sit down with them remotely and develop a list of the people they may have had contact with and to whom they have potentially passed it on to," Ms Heyman said.
"Those people are then contacted, and isolated, and tested."
This plan is similar across the region where someone who has tested positive, and has been at home but is getting unwell, will go into their local health facility for treatment until they need higher-level care Ms Heyman said.
"They will be cared for locally and then, like any other condition, if they deteriorate, we will escalate them to another facility that can care for them at that higher level.
"That facility would be Tamworth Base Hospital which has the critical intensive care facilities that they might need."
This would apply for health facilities across the northern HNEH district which means ICU ventilation patients from across the northwest and the Northern Tablelands will go to Tamworth Base Hospital.
"Tamworth planning has incorporated the ICU surge capacity for all of that northern region," said Ms Heyman.
"We have taken the worst experience from our overseas colleagues and planned for those extreme numbers - hopefully, we won't get anywhere near that, but if we do, the planning has been done.
We have taken the worst experience from our overseas colleagues and planned for those extreme numbers
"That is what some of the discussions with private health facilities and other venues has been about. We have been talking about how we can work together on our bed base and staffing levels so that increased capacity can be there."
Australia COVID-19 patients seem to be experiencing less severe symptoms Ms Heyman said, and the preparation HNEH has done should be enough to cope with the demands presented by the Coronavirus pandemic across her area.
"What is evident in Australia is that we have a higher to moderate level of people who are mildly unwell with COVID-19 than what has occurred across some of the other countries which have horrified everyone," she said.
"As part of the preparation and planning for COVID-19 management, we have mapped out, with a staged introduction approach, what the existing capacity is and what the surge capacity is.
"So we've been able to identify the physical space, the equipment and the workforce we would need to increase the capacity."
Ms Heyman said non-COVID-19 patient requirements were also factored in.
"We've made sure the planning is not just about COVID-19 because there will still be car accidents and trauma patients that require surgery and ICU capacity," she said.
"It is not just the physical space; it is also the workforce. This Friday, there is further training in Tamworth to upskill nurses in ICU care, and there is training across the medical workforce as well for professionals such as anaesthetists. It is really about familiarising them with the process and equipment if they come into ICU.
"We've looked across the whole HNEH area to ensure that we have equity and that people living in our rural areas are not going to be disadvantaged by living here and being serviced by Tamworth Base Hospital - including their access to John Hunter Hospital if required.
"Both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 retrievals will continue. We've worked with the State based retrieval services to look at what enhanced capacity will be necessary for retrievals so that these can continue because we can't expect people in smaller sites to be able to deal with trauma that they don't have the workforce or resources to manage."
We've been able to identify the physical space, the equipment and the workforce we would need to increase the capacity
Ms Heyman said she was confident Tamworth Base Hospital was able to cope with a worst-case increase in demand for high-level care, and that capacity will increase in line with demand when it is required.
"We've done all the preparation: we've purchased additional equipment; we've identified the additional staff required; we've trained additional staff; we've done some of the capital works needed in terms of changing some of the spaces, the rooms, the walls, the running of gas and oxygen lines," she said.
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