VISITATIONS to patients at Wangaratta District Base Hospital have all but been completely shut off in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19 into the health facility.
There are still zero cases of COVID-19 in Wangaratta, but health staff and patients at Northeast Health Wangaratta (NHW) are a top priority, as the workforce braces for a 5 to 10 fold increase in need for care late next month.
The number of COVID-19 cases is – at worst case scenario – forecast to peak in late April/early May, easing off into July.
As of yesterday, NHW imposed access restrictions to all visitors with exceptions to be made for people caring for those with a disability, and families visiting gravely ill loved ones, or children.
“The biggest threat to Wangaratta residents is if health care workers become ill and are not able to attend work or they’re restricted because they have to look after children at home,” director partnerships, well-ageing and hardwiring excellence, David Kidd, said.
“Our biggest challenge is that if we do have a spike that might occur in the coming months that we have a workforce who can look after people.”
The Victorian Department of Health has predicted the late April peak in cases which Mr Kidd said could translate to a 5 to 10 fold increase in patient load.
To protect patients and staff a range of measures are being put in place to restrict access with an outside tent set up yesterday that people presenting to the Emergency Department (ED) can present to for screening.
People will also be screened at all other entry points to the health facility.
“If you’ve got symptoms of potentially COVID-19 then we will then move you on to a separate screening space,” Mr Kidd said.
“A directive came through on Wednesday night that we are restricting access to the hospital unless you are caring for someone with a disability, someone who is dying, or a child.”
As of yesterday afternoon people outside these categories were able to visit during a two-hour window, however, Mr Kidd said this was likely to be ruled out by today.
NHW is working with other hospitals in the region to enact a policy to transport certain patients to other hospitals to free up beds at Wangaratta as the need grows.
“There may be some inconvenience for some people because they have to go to a different hospital,” Mr Kidd said.
“Be mindful that a hospital is not an at-risk place and you’re probably more at risk by going to a supermarket.”
Director of Emergency, Dewitt Oosthuizen, said NHW is taking stock of which staff are available and those who had leave scheduled have cancelled these arrangements so they’re free to work.
They are hoping for the screening tent to be operational by the end of this week but there are several logistics involved which need to be finalised before it is open to the public.
NHW’s COVID-19 (coronavirus) screening clinic in Norton Street is continuing to operate daily, able to test up to 20 people a day (by appointment only).
The clinic is accessible by calling the NHW COVID-19 hotline on 1800 324 942.
Callers are being screened and those that meet the criteria based on the latest advice around symptoms and possible exposure are being swabbed for COVID-19.