As the queue of cars waiting for a drive-through COVID-19 test backed up to View Street, motorists’ tempers began to fray and swabbing staff were on edge.
Word of the lengthy wait filtered through to Andrew Gay, clinical lead of Bendigo Health’s Screening Clinics.
“You feel that pressure to work harder and faster but you also have to be methodical and safe. We just took it back to doing one swab at a time,” he said.
It’s early August and Bendigo Health is in the peak of its COVID-19 testing surge, swabbing more than 900 people across its drive-through and walk-in clinics each day, averaging a swab every 32 seconds.
As Andrew explains, there was a mountain of work done behind the scenes to reach that level of efficiency.
“It became quite clear early on that we needed a second Screening Clinic, something that could cater for people who could not wait in line for an extended period of time,” he said.
A drive-through clinic was established in early July in the La Trobe Rural Health School car park.
After a week, such was the demand for the clinic, traffic was re-directed via the Anne Caudle Centre driveway to reduce the amount of traffic on the roads in the hospital precinct.
At this point, Andrew and the team set about refining the process of swabbing to improve the flow of people coming through both clinics.
“We looked at what information was necessary to collect, how can we remodel the walk-in clinic to get more people through and having a warm nurse who collects information and a hot nurse to do the swabbing to improve efficiency,” he said.
Managing community expectation and frustration has been a challenge, Andrew said.
“Some people believe they should be swabbed but unfortunately don’t fit the criteria. Occasionally things get a bit tense which is disappointing but understandable,” he said.
“No one has lived through a pandemic before. We have to remember that people are afraid and they present with heightened levels of anxiety.”
For the most part, the community has been very supportive of his 50 staff, who have shown tremendous resilience and dedication throughout, he said.
“Having to be constantly vigilant, constantly looking out for each other, doing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) changes up to four times a day and dealing with very stressed people is mentally and physically exhausting,” he said.
“These guys have been really self-motivating. They are a brilliant team and they take pride in what they do.
“Yes they have been absolutely exhausted at times but at the end of the day they know they are doing a good job and something not everyone wants to do.
“They do it for each other as well as the public.”
His team have worked hard but they’ve also worked safely.
Since Bendigo Health began COVID-19 testing in January, 22,234 swabs have been taken and no Screening Clinic worker has contracted COVID-19.
“The consistent approach to PPE changes has so far prevented contamination. I’m very proud of the team for not getting sick,” he said.
On a personal note, Andrew, a surgical nurse by trade, was seconded to Bendigo Health Infection Prevention and Control in March this year, and found himself in charge of both Screening Clinics a few months later.
“I don’t know whether it was a case of being in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time,” he joked.
Andrew has enjoyed the responsibility and extra work involved in overseeing the majority of testing for the region.
“It’s certainly high stress levels and I’m constantly thinking about work and how to look after my team but it’s been a hell of an experience,” he said.
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