This value underpins much of what we do here at St John of God Health Care hospitals and according to St John of God Berwick Hospital's maternity ward Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) Amanda Owen, her caregivers have the value of excellence running through their veins.
“They do it all,” says Amanda. “Double shifts, stepping up to relieve fellow caregivers who are needed elsewhere, going home dehydrated after complete shifts in PPE gear, my girls would give their right arm to make sure that mums and families have the birth they want, in the safest way possible. And incredibly, they do it with nothing but a smile on their faces.”
It’s been a challenging time for anyone in health care since the pandemic began but for Amanda she believes that maternity wards across the state have been particularly hard hit with an increase of patients and a simultaneous decrease in available care. “Caregivers have been leaving nursing in droves,” states Amanda, admitting that, “health care appears to be broken at the moment. But these setbacks have not stopped my team from rising up and delivering the excellence in care that we are known for and continue to strive for every day, in every situation.”
Interestingly, COVID 19 has been the cause of a lot of disruption to our daily lives over the past two years, and while people joked about a baby boom to be expected after couples were forced to isolate during the first lockdown of 2020, Amanda attributes the current one that’s being experienced at St John of God Berwick Hospital (SJGBH) to people taking some control back of their lives and making decisions to complete their families.
“A lot of our patients are making a conscious choice to complete their families now,” explains Amanda. “With weddings shelved and travel on the back burner, people have invested their time in either renovating their houses or having more children so that when this is all over they are ready to start life again. It’s basically a planned decision,” she says. “An opportunity to achieve work-life balance at a more convenient time for some people.”
Adding to this increase in births at the Berwick hospital, the maternity unit has also committed to easing the burden on the public health system by accepting Monash Health patients undergoing planned c-sections. Its Special Care Nursery has also seen a rise in premature babies born during the COVID period. “There has been a lot of unwell mums and premmies born since the pandemic began,” shares Amanda. “We’ve had to help out with the less severe cases as required and it’s the rallying together like this that clearly demonstrates our commitment to providing excellence in care,” she adds.
It’s easy to see when you analyse the comments through our hospital feedback system and scan the comments of new mums and dads on Facebook, that most of our patients are blissfully unaware that there is not only a shortage of midwives and nurses in general, but that our maternity unit is often filled to the brim with mothers who have just given birth or are in labour.
“My team has the amazing ability to make a family feel like they are the only person on the planet giving birth at that particular time. And they can do this because none of them walk out of the door when their shift is over. They are incredibly women-focused and often they eat on the run or put their own families second. They are committed to helping their mums simply focus on their contractions and not on who is walking in the door to take over the birth at the start of the next shift.”
During the latest baby boom, it wasn’t just maternity caregivers rising to the challenge, Amanda had to call in staff from other wards to give a helping hand. “The birth suite absolutely exploded,” explains Amanda. “We had to prioritise births as far as getting the right skill mix in the right birth suite so that the highest risk cases had the most suitably experienced hands on deck. A cry for help went to every caregiver on shift throughout the hospital who had midwifery experience or anyone who could even just help to answer buzzers in order to determine what patients needed and which patient requests or concerns needed to be escalated to appropriate staff. We had caregivers come from all over the hospital. At one point we even had the Director of Nursing Allison Merrigan in scrubs to help out.”
Despite the added pressure of taking on public patients and the increase in deliveries, caregivers also had to contend with the constant changes in rules and restrictions over the past two years, on top of having to be in full PPE gear for every birth. This extra tax on resources meant that two people were taken out of action to observe a caregiver donning and doffing (putting on and taking off) PPE gear — which oftentimes meant Amanda’s team would avoid drinking or going to the toilet regularly in order to remain in their protective suits longer.
“Caregivers were going home dehydrated because the PPE gear made it tricky to drink,” says Amanda. “It also made communicating with patients and other caregivers difficult, as facemasks made it extra hard to read lips and hear what people were saying. It’s been a tough climate but my team has done an amazing job and it’s very humbling as a manager to know that not one of my team members declined to treat a suspected COVID patient, nor did any of them complain once over the past two years.”
Not surprisingly, the excellence in care provided by the SJGBH staff is reflected in the clinical outcomes published annually and indexed against other hospitals across the state. “We consistently get great results,” boasts Amanda adding that, “even with COVID challenges thrown at us, our patients still rate us highly and our clinical outcomes speak for themselves.”
According to Amanda, even the limitations on visitors and the amount of support people allowed in the birth suite did not damper patient experiences. “Interestingly, the restrictions imposed actually resulted in a positive stay for many of our patients,” suggests Amanda. “Satisfaction levels for our mums were high — most notably because having no visitors meant that they had more time to bond with their babies and midwives. With little distraction they were fully able to tap into the skills and resources of our caregivers which meant parents went home better rested and far more prepared for life at home with a new baby.”
Even with the pandemic appearing to ease its grip on the world, Amanda does not see a slowdown in births any time soon. “We have 100 private patients booked in for March 2022 alone, and that doesn’t account for any public cases if the agreement with Monash Health and the government remains ongoing,” offers Amanda, who also suggests that they often see a rise in deliveries around the full moon or at times when the barometric pressure drops. “There is actually no theory behind that,” laughs Amanda. “but we certainly see the effects of a full moon once a month, and of course Melbourne’s unpredictability when it comes to weather means that despite the situation, we are always prepared to deliver excellence to each and every bedside, come what may.”