In this special opinion piece, Rachel Sargeant, Nurse Navigator and Biosecurity Quarantine Accommodation (BQA) Health Team Manager from the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, relives the past three months working in Cairns’ ‘Quarantine Hotel’. The huge team effort ensured more than 400 patients from across the Torres and Cape, who would normally return home to be supported by their local clinics and hospitals, were cared for while in quarantine in Cairns.
Her and her colleagues’ story shows the remarkable spirit of healthcare workers, particularly in difficult times, and the power of coming together and building community resilience.
When the ‘Quarantine Hotel’ welcomed its first guests there were more than 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents who had been discharged from Cairns Hospital waiting to carry out their quarantine and return home.
These were scared and frustrated people. Most of them were vulnerable. There were new babies and first-time mums, there were people needing palliative care and many with long-term complex chronic illnesses.
In our profession we are used to managing unpredictable situations and this wasn’t highly complex nursing. But there was lots of juggling and lots of uncertainty. But we all knew what we had to do. We had to be flexible, we had to work together.
We had a GP on-call and we were a team of skilled nurses, health workers and midwives. This was a true collaboration and it had to be culturally appropriate and above all follow a safe partnership model.
We quickly set up a collaborative care arrangement with Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service Nurse Navigators and also entered into an agreement with the Pharmacy at Cairns Hospital, an MOU with Mookai Rosie and welcomed colleagues from Apunipima Cape York Health Council, Northern Australia Primary Health Ltd and Anglicare into the team.
Our original team of eight nurse navigators swelled to a tightknit health and operational team of more than 20, almost overnight. Nurses, health workers and midwives formed small teams sharing their expertise and importantly; contributing local knowledge and language and often a familiar and reassuring face.
Everyone was working long days and our processes changed and adapted on a daily basis as we learnt from and improved on the day before.
We also set up offices in the two ‘Quarantine Hotels’ (a second hotel was needed as guest numbers increased) and worked closely with the hotel staff. There were other guests and residents to be considered too. At all times we had to think about workplace health and safety, physical distancing and the safety of our staff.
We checked in on our guests daily by phone or in-person. More than 40 per cent of all guests at some time required nursing, midwifery or medical attention. Having a nurse on the team with a mental health background was invaluable.
Guests also had basic needs and often no one locally to help. The Anglicare Street Chaplains were amazing - they would go shopping on guests’ behalf or collect medications, at any time of the day and night.
And don’t forget we weren’t just looking after patients - these were guests who had travel needs. Working with our travel and BQA operational teams we helped people to get home. Organising weight allowances for a charter flight was something we weren’t used to doing. But we did it.
Congratulations to Rachel and all the staff involved (some pictured below) for their mammoth effort in supporting Torres and Cape patients and getting them home safely and well.
Pictured above: TCHHS Nurse Navigator Keiva Heemi (left) and Midwife Carol Gleeson.
Pictured above: TCHHS Nurse Navigator Oliver Hauser (left) and Apunipima Cape York Health Council Chronic Disease Health Worker Patrick Wasiu.