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Being part of the Melbourne COVID Emergency Response Team

Our very own, Christine Jackson, reflects on her experience supporting the National Aged Care Emergency Response in Melbourne, in her latest submission to the Leading Age Services Australia (LASA). Read her story below.

Watching the COVID-19 aged care crisis unfolding in Melbourne was extremely difficult. As an experienced aged care nurse, the hardest part was knowing I had the skill set to help those in need but powerless to do so as I was miles away in Perth.

When the call to action came to volunteer in Melbourne - I knew that I had to go. I had a quick conversation with my family, and with their full support, I put myself forward. I was concerned about the unimaginable challenges my fellow nurses and carers were facing and I wanted to be there to support them in providing much needed care for the families and residents.

I was grateful and proud to be chosen as one of a team of six aged care workers from Bethanie’s Outbreak Response Team being deployed to assist the aged care crisis. Soon after receiving the green light, I was nominated as the team leader. It suddenly occurred to me that I was responsible for the safety of five other people.

The Outbreak Response Team is a team comprising of enrolled nurses, registered nurses and care workers from across Bethanie who completed a five-week COVID-19 training course. This training equipped us with all the tools and skills needed to respond in a crisis.

The team’s personal safety was now my number one priority and I needed a plan. I embraced the opportunity to lead the team and used my leadership and education ability to identify any potential skills and knowledge gaps that could put any of us at risk. I encouraged the team to look out for each other. Some of the team were meeting each other for the very first time after completing training with 40 other people, and I knew I had to empower them to come together as a united front.

The team became personal protective equipment buddies for each other, to reduce the risk of applying and removing protective equipment incorrectly. This is something the team were familiar with, as it was a learning from the ‘Outbreak Response Training’ they had completed four days prior to deployment.

I engaged the team every step of the way, giving them a platform on which they could voice their concerns, communicate with each other and debrief regularly. We problem solved and set goals together. We also had empathy for each other and became a little family. We laughed and cried together. Being away from family and friends was difficult at times, but we got through it because we had each other.

On arrival in Melbourne, I quickly found myself being the nurse in charge of the aged care facility. I remember saying to myself “It’s okay, you’ve got this”.

One experience that will stay with me forever is that of a lady who I was determined to connect with on week one of our deployment. There was a language barrier between us, but my colleagues and I were not going to let that get in the way of us communicating and building a rapport with her.

After moving to the COVID zone she became very sick with COVID-19 symptoms. This lady had lost her appetite and refused everything offered to her. My team and I would take turns to give her hand massages and spend time with her trying desperately to build a connection and gain her trust. Over the next week, her symptoms improved, and she began taking coffee or tea and biscuits. One night we decided to play some Greek music in the lounge area and this lady left her room and walked down to the lounge and sat down. We were so excited to see her walking, talking and wanting to eat and drink.

For many of us, this year has been like nothing we have ever experienced before. Our team were as prepared as we possible could be to tackle COVID-19 and are confident that we have the knowledge and skills to tackle future crises.

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