Bendigo Health will lead a unique research project exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of the rural and regional healthcare workforce.
The study, which hopes to recruit 4000 healthcare workers from health services throughout the Loddon Mallee region, aims to develop practical interventions that can improve workers responses to disasters in the future.
Bendigo Health and La Trobe University will lead the state government-funded study on behalf of the health services in the Loddon Mallee Health Network, St John of God Hospital Bendigo, the five Loddon Mallee Community Health Centres, the Murray Primary Health Network and the University of Copenhagen.
Bendigo Health Chief Executive Officer and associate investigator for the study, Peter Faulkner, said COVID has affected different staff in different ways.
“For those nursing, treating or caring for patients with COVID-19, clearly the
risks are higher, so we expect to see different impacts on those people,” he said
“In most regional communities health services are the largest employer so if there is an impact if affects the whole community not just that staff member and their families.”
Mr Faulkner said the study will be the first one to examine the impact of COVID on regional communities.
“In rural populations there’s a natural resilience. Rural populations contend with all sorts of variations in natural circumstances, drought, floods and the like but we also know in rural and regional communities there is high psychological risk,” he said.
Intensive Care and Respiratory Ward nurse Ebony Straub has cared for a number of critically unwell COVID patients throughout the pandemic, some of whom deteriorated rapidly.
“A lot of it is do with the stress and uncertainty of what’s to come. The mental health, drain and fatigue,” she said.
“We’ve all had to push through and work a lot more than we normally would, setting up a dedicated ward for COVID patients.
“It’s about trying to build up the morale on the ward because we’re all in the same boat and everybody handles stress differently.”
On a personal note, caring for COVID patients meant Ebony was unable to see her mother, who is in the high-risk category.
“Missing milestones, celebrating and grieving with family. We lost a loved one and it’s just a whole new level of mourning because you’re doing it solo and watching a funeral on a screen,” she said.
The study will begin recruiting health care workers in November.
For further information about the study please contact Dr Angela Crombie, Director of Research and Innovation at Bendigo Health, via email [email protected] or visit the study website: https://www.bendigohealth.org.au/LoddonMalleeHealthcareWorkerCOVIDstudy/