SOURCING staff during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic became a real challenge, according to Mid-West Community Healthcare chief officer, Maria Bridgeman.
In a wide-ranging presentation via Zoom for members of the HSE West Forum earlier this week, Ms Bridgeman outlined the huge volume of work undertaken by the HSE and partner agencies to combat the spread of the virus once the first case was confirmed on March 4.
“We had to start from scratch and identify areas that would be suitable for isolation units. The turnaround for these were required quite quickly. These units had to be kitted out in line with infection control guidelines.
“One significant piece of work was setting up the community testing and swabbing teams. This involved a lot of significant work, which was resource dependent,” she said.
It involved a lot of staff setting up a new information technology system called swift queue. We had to get staff to upload all the names of people who were referred for swabbing and then offer them appointments.
Before this was rolled out the HSE had to identify mobile and static sites for testing in the three counties.
“During the height of the pandemic staffing became a real challenge from the perspective of the number of staff available for duty due to Covid-19 diagnosis or because they were in direct contact with someone who had a diagnosis or were a suspect case.
“A number of staff across our sites had to cocoon because of their age and some staff were also immunocompromised,” she outlined.
Ms Bridgeman paid tribute to a number of organisations such a the GAA for providing their facilities to facilitate testing
“There was a lot of work getting swabs, distributing them and getting the results, which was a public health and GP responsibility,” she said.
Community Assessment Hubs were also established in different locations including the Shannon Health Centre for Covid-19 patients who may not have needed hospital services but needed to be seen by a doctor.
She said there was a huge amount of work in this identifying a site, which had to have adequate space to allow patients enter and exit safely and provision for staff to put on PPE.
Alternative accommodation had to be sourced for services, which were previously run from these health centres.
A new contract tracing team was set up for staff.
The HSE also had to identify additional beds in older persons, mental health and disability services and set them up with personnel in HSE Estates within a quick turnaround.
This was done to facilitate people who may have required isolation at a particular time and also patients in the community who couldn’t source these facilities.
She said this involved a lot of work because the HSE had to meet HIQA standards.
A Covid-19 response team was set up to support the long term care residential facilities by giving advice over the phone and other assistance on a variety of issues such as staffing.
This included providing support for mental health facilities, 45 nursing homes, nine older people residential units.
“Sourcing PPE and getting up pathways in relation to the distribution of it was quite a significant undertaking. We had to set up a transport hub for people who had to be transported from home to the community assessment hub or to isolation facilities because this required certain infection control measures.
“Another significant area was setting up social supports for residents or families of people diagnosed with Covid-19 and for bereaved families,” she said.
She said a significant amount of new HSE services had to be set up and resourced in the community, which involved a lot of training.
The HSE is now completing a risk assessment as part of the reopening of services in the community.
“We will have to continue with a certain amount of Covid-19 services and have to remain in a position if we get a second surge so we can respond as quickly as we can,” she explained.