• Care for community health in time of crisis

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    AT Northeast Health Wangaratta, the team of staff remains vigilant and ready to respond to the community’s needs during the bushfire emergency.

    NHW director clinical services, nursing and midwifery, Rebecca Weir, said even though air quality over the past few days had reached hazardous levels, there had not been a surge in presentations at the emergency department.

    She praised the community for being patient, respectful and not over-burdening health services in the wake of the state government’s declaration of a state of emergency.

    “We are seeing all the normal complaints coming through, and respiratory complaints are something we see regularly, but we are not seeing a drastic increase,” she said.

    “But we would always encourage anyone who has known respiratory problems to follow their asthma management plans and to heed the advice from the EPA.

    “As advised by the EPA, P2 and N95 face masks may provide some relief to those who are at risk if fitted properly, and instructions on how to fit them are available on the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services Facebook page.

    “Obviously if someone is in acute respiratory distress, they should call an ambulance.”

    Face masks are not available or being distributed by the hospital, but are being made available through evacuation or relief centres in those communities directly impacted by bushfires.

    Ms Weir said it was also important for members of the public to be mindful of the effect the bushfire crisis could have on their mental health and wellbeing.

    She said with images and reports saturating the media in print, online and on our television screens, even those at a distance from the fire front could be experiencing symptoms.

    “Even if they are not directly impacted, they would definitely know people within the community or in other parts of the country who have been affected,” she said.

    “What we would call ‘normal’ stress is to be thinking about it a bit and perhaps talking about it with other people.

    “Signs it’s becoming a problem can be if you are having trouble sleeping for consecutive nights, wanting to turn to alcohol and other drugs, and excluding yourself from social situations.

    “If those things are happening, you really need to seek out professional support.”

    While organisations including Gateway Health and Albury Wodonga Health will be providing mental health support services in the recovery phase of the disaster, anyone experiencing symptoms now is encouraged to visit their general practitioner.

    Ms Weir said with a number of NHW staff members having been directly impacted by fires or volunteering their services in different capacities, some of its normally scheduled services have not been able to run.

    She said ongoing issues of air quality and fire danger warnings had also affected the delivery of allied health and nursing services in the field.But she said the situation was being monitored daily, contingencies were in place and relief resources were being accessed to ensure a return to “business as usual”.

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