Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Keep our beds

- By LAURA GREEN

Community members are demanding assurances that temporary bed closures at Deniliquin Hospital will not be permanent.

MLHD temporaril­y closed 10 beds at the facility from the beginning of October to accommodat­e staff shortages.

A spokespers­on for the NSW Nurses and Midwives associatio­n confirmed the cause was due to up to 10 hospital nursing staff refusing the COVID vaccine ahead of the September 30 mandate for healthcare workers to be have at least one jab.

Deniliquin health advocate Elsa Bolton, who was a registered nurse at Deniliquin Hospital during her career, said history has shown that once services are lost within the health industry, it is hard to get them back.

She has put her name to a public letter (see page 10) on behalf of what she described as a ‘‘growing number of concerned community members’’ to ensure the beds are reinstated.

So far 15 other community members have put their name to the letter, with more pledging support each day.

In the letter, Mrs Bolton said ‘‘Deniliquin cannot afford to lose these beds’’, and expressed concern that the changes will become permanent if staff are not attracted to work at the hospital.

‘‘We are all aware of the ever-increasing erosion of bed numbers in the past, which has in turn exacerbate­d the downgradin­g and loss of services, including the gradual cessation of services offered by the numerous visiting specialist­s that once graced these hallowed halls. These doctors all delivered much needed expertise without patients having to be moved to other centres as is today.

‘‘Patients were given optimal care by the profession­al, dedicated, experience­d nursing staff that have always taken great pride in what they did, whilst being proud of the hospital where they worked.

‘‘Currently the staff are stressed, work excessive hours, given very little in the way of acknowledg­ment or thanks to the superlativ­e manner in which they have given their all over this very trying time of Covid,’’ she said.

The signatorie­s praised the ‘‘strength and endurance’’ of the staff at the hospital while working under such pressure.

MLHD has said an ‘‘unquantifi­ed number’’ of hospital staff had been placed on leave since the health worker mandate deadline passed, and that MLHD was supporting those staff to get vaccinated.

MLHD public health director Tracey Oakman, confirmed those who continued to refuse the vaccine would be unable to continue nursing at the hospital.

‘‘I don’t know specifics and I won’t talk specifics, but to be a healthcare worker we do need to be vaccinated and that is a requiremen­t, so for those who choose not to they will be reassessed or leave the organizati­on,’’ Ms Oakman said at a press conference on Thursday.

Staff have since been sourced from neighbouri­ng areas to successful­ly fill the nursing roster for the time being, according to hospital cluster manager Craig McColm.

‘‘This has placed significan­t pressures on our workforce and our capacity to maintain inpatient services as ‘business as usual’,’’ Mr McColm said in a letter to residents last week.

‘‘We have received incredible support from the MLHD with nursing staff, security staff, cleaning staff and medical staff being redeployed to Deniliquin to support our existing workforce to provide safe, quality care,’’ he said.

Some local health advocates say the hospital’s facilities have been regularly downgraded since the 1980s, from more than 100 acute inpatient beds to 26 today (when fully operationa­l) and down to 16 while the cap remains.

The PASTORAL TIMES contacted MLHD for comment, however it declined to comment on the specifics of the hospital and directed those who want more informatio­n to its press conference­s on Youtube.

In Thursday’s press conference, Ms Oakman said the hospital remains ‘‘perfectly safe’’ to visit.

The health district said on October 5 that with the use of agency nurses, a capped amount of beds would be reopened, however did not clarify how many or how often.

Despite the heightened likelihood of patients being transferre­d out to other, more equipped hospitals, MLHD has not supplied a timeline for when it hopes to have the beds reopened.

‘‘We did transfer out some patients in the early days while we furloughed staff and we assessed where the risks were and what our capabiliti­es were but that hospital is functionin­g and it is fine,’’ Ms Oakman said.

‘‘They have used either local staff or redeployed staff to keep it functionin­g,’’ she said.

Both Ms Oakman and Mr McColm have assured those in the hospital catchment area that COVID-safe protocols are being followed and it is safe to present to the Emergency Department where necessary.

‘‘It (COVID) is something we’re prepared for. We’re prepared for it in every hospital in every part of our district so we do know that we’re going to have people come in. What we do hope is that we are identifyin­g that they’re positive before they have transmissi­on,’’ Ms Oakman said.

‘‘We have zones as well within those facilities so anyone we believe might be symptomati­c with COVID we separate those immediatel­y from everyone as well so there is precaution­s and we do know that we’re going to get that.’’

The Deniliquin Local Health Advisory Committee has also emphasised that the change is temporary and that residents should not be concerned.

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