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    Wimmera Base Hospital.

Community leadership call | COVID-19


A leading regional health official has called for people to take on leadership roles and ‘call out’ behaviour out of line with social-gathering guidelines.

East Grampians Health Service chief executive Andrew Freeman said a national message of social distancing was critical in slowing COVID-19 and there was a need for everyday people to adopt a sense of responsibility.

“It is really important for people to respect social-distancing rules and stop socialising in groups. If people see gatherings they should call that behaviour out and show leadership,” he said.

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“This is particularly important in sending a message, especially to young people. They might not get sick, but they can pass it on.”

Mr Freeman said like other health services, East Grampians was following Department of Health and Human Services guidelines in planning and working through its response protocols.

“We’re progressively working through planning in anticipation of COVID-19 coming to Ararat and surrounding areas,” he said.

“We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Mr Freeman said the health service had progressively introduced responsive procedures.

He said this had involved measures such as restricting visitors to aged-care and acute wards and reducing non-essential services to free up staff capacity.

A virus-screening system involving Ararat Medical Centre and Ararat hospital has been in place for several weeks.

Mr Freeman said an East Grampians Health Service preference was for anyone concerned they might have the virus to call either the medical centre on 5352 2311 or the health service on 5352 9420 before presenting at either.

“We’re all in this together and I can’t stress enough that people have to consider looking after each other as well as themselves,” he said.

“This is a highly contagious virus and even if you don’t show symptoms you can still easily pass it on to someone who might be vulnerable.”


Catherine Morley.

Wimmera Health Care Group chief executive Catherine Morley said the region’s central health organisation had been planning for several weeks with clinical and department managers meeting daily with an infection control team. 

“There has been plenty of work already undertaken around infrastructure requirements, such as portable buildings and showers for nurses at the end of shifts,” she said.

“We have begun employing support staff to help maintain the workload on our nurses. 

“We have also put the call out to nurses who have recently left the profession but would have the clinical training to help out as the pandemic heightens.

“We have closed our campuses from the visiting public and those who do attend the main hospital or Arapiles building in Horsham will be questioned by our welcoming officers to ensure they have just cause for being there.

“We have made our own infection-control videos and made them available to all our team members as well as our neighbouring health services to make sure all clinicians are confident about protecting themselves when treating COVID-19 patients.”

Ms Morley said an assessment clinic was seeing on average about 25 people a day and about half of these were undergoing testing.

“We are planning for the worst-case scenario and hoping the community will do as they are asked to do – stay home, wash their hands and self-isolate if they are feeling unwell.

“This planning includes looking at expanding the acute-bed capacity with limited resources and how we will deal with an increased number of deaths.

“We are making sure everyone is ready and I can honestly say that when the report came through of the first confirmed case tested at our hospital, there was a calm professional approach across the entire health service. 

“That tells us that our team will cope and our community can expect the highest possible standard of care from them.”



Stawell Regional Health is upscaling services as hospital staff prepare for more COVID-19 transmissions. 

Chief executive Kate Pryde said in curtailing the spread of the virus the hospital was developing a service with its senior clinical nurses to provide in-home COVID-19 support. 

“Our in-home COVID-19 clinic will be monitoring our unwell clients in the community with assessment – that should start in about two weeks,” she said. 

“We’re also looking at a form of respiratory-assessment clinic as people in our community become unwell.”

Ms Pryde said the hospital was also looking to employ people in preparation for increased demand due to COVID-19. 

“We’re working with our healthcare leaders and we will be launching a campaign to employ people in our community who might be able to assist us as demand rises,” she said. 

“There are people who are getting sick outside of COVID-19 – so we need to make sure we have that capacity as well – that’s not stopping because the virus is here.” 

She said her message to public was clear – ‘stay at home, that’s the bottom line’.

“I think we’re all struggling to find another way of saying it,” she said. 

“Help us help you – if the public maxes us out, we can’t help. We’ve got to have those difficult conversations with each other – if you see someone who is doing something wrong, have the conversation. 

“None of us have ever had to navigate these ethical and moral decisions at the rate we’re making them at the moment – support people to make the right decisions.” 

Ms Pryde said the public should be aware there would likely be more COVID-19 cases, because it was already present in the community. 

“Everybody is worried about where coronavirus is – it is right here – it is a silent enemy,” she said. 

“We can’t rely on swab results to say whether people have got it – there’s a big delay in them at the moment. 

“It is well and truly here before a swab picks it up.” 

The hospital is also co-ordinating with Grampians Community Health to provide home-isolation support services, including telehealth. 

Ms Pryde said now was an opportune time to reconnect with friends and family digitally while state and federal governments’ social-distancing measures tightened. 

“Call that friend you haven’t talked to in a while, they’re probably sitting at home too,” she said. 




West Wimmera Health Service chief executive Ritchie Dodds.

West Wimmera Health Service is also asking for community help.

Chief executive Ritchie Dodds said his organisation was preparing its back-up systems and putting a call-out to employ more support workers moving forward.  

He said his health service would struggle to cope if there was an outbreak. 

“If one staff member gets coronavirus, then their co-workers might have it as well – so overnight we would pretty much lose an entire group of staff,” he said. 

“There’s five intensive-care unit beds in Horsham and about 18 in Ballarat – so if all of a sudden we had three or four people presenting positive in Nhill, it’s likely Horsham would have more cases too.

“Victoria is up there with having one of the best health-care systems in the world – but no health-care system can cope with what might happen if you’ve got thousands of people needing an ICU bed.” 

Mr Dodds said the hospital was trying to hire more support workers for a variety of departments, including nursing, administration, cleaners and food services.

“We’ve sent out a message – if you’ve got any type of skill you think could be useful for the health services then please send us your details and we might be able to put you on as either a volunteer or a short-term employee,” he said.

“That’s not just nursing and personal care, that’s cooking, cleaning, administrative work and maintenance.” 

Mr Dodds said the hospital staff were fortifying the health service’s backline to ensure it could deal with unprecedented demand. 

“We’re making sure our back-up systems are in place,” he said. 

“We’re checking all our systems and processes to ensure they can withstand a significant surge in demand for our services. 

“That includes making sure our medical oxygen supplies are as full as possible, our LPG gas is full and we have a stockpile of diesel – so if the power goes out we can deal with that too.

“It’s life or death for some people – if that’s not serious enough for people to take notice of what both state and federal government are saying to do, I don’t know what is.”  



Chief executive Andrew Saunders said his health organisation was strictly screening patients entering the hospital. 

“Like all other health services in the region, we’re in lockdown mode,” he said.

“We do an assessment over the phone first. People then need to present at the urgent-care entrance and hit the call button to the nurses station. People are triaged before they can come in. 

“We’ve also reduced our non-essential services – allied health services are now being done through telehealth or offsite.”  

Mr Saunders said the hospital had allocated a dedicated room to isolate the virus if there was an outbreak. 

“We’ve set aside one of our wings in our acute-care area that we can isolate from the rest of the hospital if we get people with COVID-19 presenting,” he said. 

“We’re prepared to manage those people, however, if people need ventilators, they will need an ICU bed – the closest being Horsham or Ballarat.” 

Mr Saunders said the hospital was working with the community to help manage mental-health needs during the pandemic. 

“We’ve sent out flyers to the community providing information about maintaining mental health – with a range of numbers to call –  highlighting what’s normal and what’s not normal,” he said. 

He said similar to other Wimmera hospitals, he wanted to employ more community workers to alleviate increasing pressure on hospital staff. 

“We’ve sent out a call for workers through our Facebook page and through public messaging,” he said.

“We’ve had a good response from people who might have worked in health before or have skillsets we could use.” 



Health care leaders in Yarriambiack Shire are emphasising the critical nature of the community’s role in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Rural Northwest Health operates across a region including Warracknabeal, Beulah and Hopetoun, coupled with disability-support agency Woodbine.

Acting chief executive Jo Martin said everyone in the community shared the responsibility of preventing the spread to protect the vulnerable population. 

She urged the community to continue practising social-distancing measures. 

“While we’re here help our community, the community can help us more than ever at the moment. Only leave your house for essential needs,” she said. 

“This is not about ‘me’ or ‘you’ – this is about community. This is a critical and pivotal point in this rural community’s sustainability.

“If everyone took it upon themselves to do the right thing, we will get through this. 

“It’s about the residents in our nursing home – your mother, your father your neighbour – take a look around your community, we have the highest proportion of people aged over 65 and they’re the most vulnerable. 

“We have a lot of people with disabilities in our community as well through Woodbine. 

“We all have the social responsibility to do the right thing by these people.” 

Mrs Martin said social-distancing measures should not stop people from reaching out to their loved ones.  

“Don’t forget about members of our vulnerable community – please contact them via phone to keep that connection going,” she said.

“Keep in touch with people, rural communities can already feel pretty isolated at times, but these measures take that to a new level, so just check in with people.”  

Mrs Martin said health-service leaders were also thinking of ways to support businesses across the shire. 

“RNH supplies meals on wheels to Yarriambiack Shire – an opportunity might arise where we could sub-contract local hotels to do that with us, rather than us increasing our capacity, if demand rises,” she said. 

Mrs Martin said people concerned about having the virus could firstly call the dedicated COVID-19 hotline on 1800 675 398.

“The hotline is the first point of call – people can then phone ahead to our general practice or to urgent care if they feel they meet the criteria,” she said. 

“We only swab people who meet the criteria, which is changing daily.

“We don’t have a public walk-up clinic like Wimmera Health Care Group in Horsham.”

• To late yesterday, the collective health services had officially registered seven COVID-19 cases across the region.

Wimmera groups form united front | COVID-19


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