By now, you will have heard the news that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic. An announcement like this will no doubt cause increased concern within the community, however, it is a reminder that we need to take this rapidly evolving situation seriously.
These measures may go beyond anything we have experienced before and that’s why we are working hard to be prepared. The Monash Health Incident Command Team has been fully operational and working in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure we are informed with the latest information and stocked up with proper equipment and supplies to manage the challenges of COVID-19 safely and effectively.
I want to thank the many people involved in our preparations. We have already established off-site ‘fever clinics’ adjacent to Monash Medical Centre and Casey Hospital. The Dandenong Clinic will come on line on Tuesday. The Clayton Clinic has already tested more than 1,000 people since Tuesday and the Monash Health teamwork has been impressive. Thanks to our clinical teams, pathology, engineering, security and many others for their work.
Our operations teams have been planning for various scenarios and the work is well advanced. Again, thank you to the many senior clinical staff involved, including those in ICU, Anaesthesia, Emergency Departments, wards and medical and surgical teams. Our Women’s Health team are also well advanced in their preparations.
However, as we all know, we still have much to do.
As Victoria’s largest health provider, we will be relied upon to take action to slow down the spread of the virus, respond to any outbreaks, and assist our community to recover as quickly as possible. This means some decisions will be made to protect our most vulnerable Victorians. None of these decisions will be taken lightly and must be proportionate to the risks ahead. Still, I know the exceptional workforce at Monash Health will band together and do what is necessary to protect our community and each other.
We want to ensure we are all well prepared and informed with the latest information to assist you in doing what you do best. Please continue to regularly consult the Monash Health employee COVID-19 website, where you can read the latest FAQs and access useful links to the DHHS and Smartraveller websites.
The situation is rapidly evolving, so please stay informed.
To that end I want to advise you of a number of decisions, effective immediately.
Business Travel: All overseas business travel must be now approved by me via your line manager. All previously approved business related travel is rescinded and will need to be reconsidered. Our website explains the implications for any cost implications if you are impacted.
Leave due to Isolation, Quarantine or Carers leave: Monash Health will support you if you are impacted. Please refer to our website where the various scenarios are explained.
Returning Overseas Travellers: This afternoon, the Prime Minister announced that anyone arriving from overseas from midnight 15 March 2020 would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, regardless of where they have been.
As a result, no Monash Health employee should return to the workplace for 14 days if they have travelled overseas.
Anyone who has returned from overseas should closely monitor for any symptoms and take responsibility for social distancing measures.
Gatherings of large groups: We will now postpone all non-critical meetings. We are currently working on guidance for alternate ways to conduct meetings, to minimising the number of times entire teams are in the one location, and provide a technical means to assist. In the interim please think about ways in which your meetings can occur, and ensure that anyone who is unwell is not present at the meeting but is supported. Ensure hand sanitiser is available in the meeting and is used. With the increasing numbers of infected people in Victoria the implementation of these guidelines is imminent.
Outpatients: We are currently working on guidance for outpatient clinics, including remote/teleconference/videoconferencing options and reducing the number of people attending clinics to avoid large numbers of people in one area. With the increasing numbers of infected people in Victoria the implementation of these guidelines is imminent.
No shared food: It is important at this time to ensure there is no food sharing. No plates of communal food are to be placed within any environment, regardless of sharing mechanisms (tongs etc). For maximum effect, this must now also include no communal bowls of wrapped foods, such as chocolates, lollies etc.
Limiting patient visitors: As part of our proactive approach and latest advice in reducing risks to patients, we have now taken the decision to limit visitation from families and friends to no more than two people at any one time. We are also discussing more restrictive visiting arrangements with some units and may change our overall approach in the future as required.
Site and Ward Co-ordination
We have identified the clinical areas across Dandenong, Casey, Monash Medical Centre and Monash Children’s Hospital that will be the initial areas for admission of people who require inpatient care due to infection. Work continues on how this will be escalated should the need arise.
Work is already well progressed to commission the Casey Hospital and is being led by Andrew Perta (General Manager) and Bill Sievert (Program Director). We anticipate practical completion of the necessary building works this month, with the progressive commissioning soon thereafter. Ultimately Casey Hospital provides Monash Health with an additional 120 beds and 12 ICU beds.
A reminder once again that the best way you can continue to protect yourselves and others is always to follow proper hand hygiene practices, and if you are unwell, stay at home and avoid contact with others. Using personal protective equipment correctly is imperative, and if you have not already done so, please refresh your knowledge here.
Since our first COVID-19 patient presented at Monash Health and in the subsequent weeks, I have appreciated and been impressed by the kindness and dedication you have all shown for our patients and each other. In the coming weeks, much will be asked of us, and I know we will deliver with the same dedication as always, and I remind you to reach out to each other or your manager to ensure you too gain support when needed. You and your family can also access the free services of our Employee Assistance Program on 1300 687 327 for additional assistance.
Thank you for your calm resilience in facing the challenges thus far. We will move through these challenging times as always, together.