Compassion binds us all

At the height of the second wave and resulting aged care crisis in Victoria,  St John of God Berwick Hospital CEO Lisa Norman received a call from the Victorian Department of Health (DHHS) asking her to accept 30 COVID positive or suspected aged care residents, most of whom had complex care needs and were living with dementia.

9 Jul 2021

St John of God Berwick Hospital caregivers assisting during the COVID-19 pandemic 

To put this into perspective, the call was received 45 minutes before Lisa was expected to receive the patients, the level of expertise around delivery of residential aged care was not extremely high and we didn’t have a ward prepped to receive COVID positive patients.

"When they arrived, the residents were scared and confused, and their families were worried and anxious," said Lisa.

"But, as always, our caregivers were ready to swing into action and do what they do best – provide compassionate care when our community needed it the most."

Caregivers worked quickly to put measures into place to ensure the residents felt welcome, safe and comfortable upon their arrival. This included personal phone calls to their families, regular visits from a pastoral practitioner, immediate hygiene care and nourishment with hot meals.

Due to the risk of infection spread, the residents arrived with nothing more than the clothes on their back, so caregivers in Perth worked with the local Coles near St John of God Berwick Hospital to arrange a delivery of personal items, such as hairbrushes and toothbrushes, which went a long way towards settling the residents by providing some home comforts as well as reassuring their families that they would be well cared for. 

When the aged care residents arrived at St John of God Berwick Hospital, and not for the first time during the pandemic, caregivers put their hand up to work in areas they were not necessarily experienced in. Some caregivers relocated to a hotel for weeks on end, to protect their families from the virus as much as possible. Some picked up paintbrushes and moved furniture as part of the recommissioning of the St John of God Langmore Centre.

The Langmore Centre was re-established as an aged care facility in record time to provide much needed relief to Victoria’s aged care sector, and caregivers from across Victoria volunteered to be a part of the unit, under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Linda Allen.

"Once the residents who were transferred to St John of God Berwick Hospital had recovered from their symptoms, or tested negative, they were transferred to St John of God Langmore Centre for ongoing residential-style care until the State Government deemed it safe for them to return home," said Linda.

"We also accepted COVID negative residents from another private hospital provider as the feedback about our outstanding level of multi-disciplinary care was recognised by the Victorian Department of Health.

"In just ten days the facility was opened to help take the pressure off an already stretched aged care sector during the peak of the pandemic. The newly created Langmore team involved caregivers from across St John of God Health Care's Victorian hospitals - nurses, pastoral practitioners, administrators, care assistants, catering and cleaning staff.

"The Shepton Ward brought renewed hope and normality to residents. We were able to offer a slower pace to the day than they had experienced in a busy acute hospital where they had been so very unwell. We were able to offer diversional therapy programs via our pastoral care team which included art and music therapy to assist residents to feel more relaxed, and our allied health professionals focused on assisting residents to improve, given a number of them experienced a decline in their function whilst unwell with COVID."

In addition to the heroics on the frontline, there was a lot of work happening behind-the-scenes to find out as much as possible about the residents - their routines, likes and dislikes – to help them settle. Training and education materials were developed to help all our caregivers better understand what cognitively impaired patients needed, in order to feel safe and cared for.

With restrictions in place, many residents were unable to see their family members, and whilst access to technology enabled families to talk to residents via FaceTime and video link, it was our caregivers who became the constant companion and primary source of comfort for them. Having to build trust and demonstrate compassion through full PPE was no easy feat and yet our caregivers took it all in their stride and built lasting relationships with many of the residents. 

"We’ve been in it together, we’ve carried each other. It’s been a great experience and it’s something I’d do again in a heartbeat,” said Nikki Clifton, an Enrolled Nurse based at St John of God Geelong Hospital. 

"As much as it was tragic and emotional and hard and tiring, I think we got a lot out of it, too. I feel proud of what we achieved and how we worked together.

"This moment in time will stick with us forever."

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