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More hospitals called up to COVID front line as case surge looms

Following last week’s rise in case numbers, the hospital changed its status. As of Wednesday, it is accepting any adult who needs high-acuity treatment for COVID-19 and the Monash Children’s Hospital has started taking COVID-19 patients.

The Austin Hospital and University Hospital Geelong have also been added to the high-acuity, adult stream. They join The Alfred, Box Hill Hospital, the Northern Hospital and the Royal Melbourne Hospital at the pointy end of an outbreak that, on current projections, will closely follow Sydney’s curve.

Monash Medical Centre will take more COVID patients under the change in role.

Monash Medical Centre will take more COVID patients under the change in role.
Credit:Eddie Jim

Monash this week opened a new 32-bed COVID-19 ward and has further capacity to accept up to 112 patients. This increases Victoria’s standing capacity to treat serious, adult cases in hospital to 585 beds, including 100 in intensive care. Under the streaming model, this can be increased, as required, with the addition of more wards and hospitals.

Mr Stripp said the big change from last year’s second wave was the vaccination of front-line hospital staff and the availability of proper-fitting protective equipment. All staff who come into direct contact with patients anywhere in the hospital are required to wear N-95 masks and face shields. They also get daily virus screening with mouth-swab PCR tests.

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These protections mean that even if staff come into contact with COVID-positive patients who don’t know they have the virus, there is a very low risk of transmission.

So far this year, there is no known instance of a patient infecting hospital staff or hospital staff infecting a patient at any Monash hospitals. Mr Stripp said the admission of COVID-19 patients was no reason for people needing other healthcare to avoid hospital.

“The hospital is a safe place to get treatment,” he said. “If you are unwell, if you need care, don’t stay away.”

Nursing staff who work on COVID-19 wards will be segregated from other staff. They can be rostered onto non-COVID wards only after a three-day break and negative test.

Mr Stripp said Monash Health was exploring whether shorter, six-hour shifts for COVID-19 nursing staff could be used to reduce the physical toll of working in full protective equipment. Although the standard nursing shift is eight hours, some stretch over 12 hours.

At the start of the pandemic, when alarming models forecast that Australia would be swamped by COVID-19 infections, Monash Health rushed to create 200 intensive care unit beds. They were barely used during Victoria’s initial, mini-wave of infections and ICU capacity wasn’t seriously tested by the second wave, which peaked at 675 inpatients across the entire hospital system.

Mr Stripp said he hoped he was again planning for scenarios that would never be realised.

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