A recent coronavirus outbreak at a Melbourne hospital has seen hundreds of staff furloughed and highlights ongoing concerns about infection control in the sector, healthcare unions say.
Yesterday, Peninsula Health confirmed 618 staff had been sent home following a coronavirus outbreak at Frankston Hospital, in Melbourne’s south-east.
There were 44 active cases among the health service’s staff members yesterday, a decrease from at least 51 last week.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) a union with more than 2,500 members employed across the Peninsula Health service, said nurses had raised multiple, “often complex” concerns about the outbreak.
Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said the concerns included infection control practises and access to appropriate sizes of N95 masks, fit testing and fit checking.
Workers were also worried about staffing levels in COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 wards, “challenging behaviour from aged care residents with dementia and COVID-19, and how to keep them safe as well as the staff themselves”, Ms Fitzpatrick said.
Peninsula Health said it was working with a team of infection-prevention experts to review its coronavirus practices.
“The safety and wellbeing of our staff, our patients and our community is our utmost priority, and we are doing all we can to help slow the spread of this virus,” Peninsula Health chief executive Felicity Topp said yesterday.
Ms Fitzpatrick said Peninsula Health needed to “be transparent” about the specific occupations of the furloughed staff.
Peninsula Health said Frankston Hospital wards affected by the outbreak included the Acute Medical Surgical Unit, the Surgical Short Stay Unit and the 5GN ward.
Victoria COVID-19 snapshot
Updated Wednesday, August 26
The inpatient ward in Frankston Hospital’s paediatric department was also temporarily closed to admissions “due to an excessive demand on workforce”.
Some patients have been transferred to other hospitals.
The health group has also been battling an outbreak at its Golf Links Road Rehabilitation Centre, where at least 17 patients had tested positive as of last week.
‘Important lessons’ to learn
The mass quarantining came a day after authorities revealed up to 80 per cent of Victorian healthcare workers with COVID-19 caught it at work, after previously estimating the figure to be less than 20 per cent.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) wants fit testing of N95 masks, which protect the user from airborne particles, to be made mandatory for dealing with coronavirus patients.
“In other industries where N95 masks are used, it usually is mandated that fit testing is required to make sure that you get an airtight seal, so that people who work in stonemasonry for example aren’t contaminated with the dust and therefore inhale it into their lungs,” Victorian AMA president Julian Rait told ABC Radio Melbourne.
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“We would argue that a similar standard should apply for healthcare workers who could potentially inhale the virus responsible for COVID-19.”
The Victorian Government was conducting a fit-testing trial, but Dr Rait said concerns were raised months ago that the virus could be spread by airborne particles.
“There was evidence from way back as far as April, if not March, that suggested that protecting against the airborne spread of … COVID-19 was a responsible step,” he said.
“The AMA is bemused that it’s taken so long to actually consider what we would’ve considered was a reasonable body of evidence a few months ago.”
“There are multiple and complex factors,” she said.
“PPE training, donning and doffing safely, cohorting of positive patients, the space between patients, ventilation in older buildings, and how staff amenities are used, are all contributing to the transmission.”
Peninsula Health is the major provider of healthcare services in the Mornington Peninsula, Frankston, and Kingston council areas.
On Wednesday, those local government areas had a combined total of more than 180 active cases.
The chief executive of Frankston Council, Phil Cantillon, said he was proud of the community.
“The sense of community is overwhelming, and the outpouring of support for each other and Peninsula Health staff has been moving to say the least,” he said.
“While the Peninsula Health team have faced some challenges, their commitment to keeping our community safe and informed should be applauded.”
DHHS is investigating how the outbreak spread at Frankston Hospital.
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