People should have confidence in the preparations being made on their behalf by their healthcare professionals says the person leading the Bay of Plenty District Health Board’s COVID-19 response.

Everyone is going the extra mile, putting their hands up and taking on responsibility. For me it’s been quite a humbling experience. People are going above and beyond and we’ve seen the results of that in terms of planning and preparedness as a health system across the Bay of Plenty. It’s very much an attitude of we’re all in this together and we’re dealing with it,” she said.

Planning for the BOPDHB’s COVID-19 response began back in early January and this intensified as the threat developed to the point where on Monday 16 March an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was activated.

Anstis said there were a number of key actions and activities which had occurred during the planning phase to assist our health system in its preparedness. These included:

  • Reducing all non essential electives (surgeries) and outpatient appointments to create capacity within our hospitals
  • Moving to alternative ways of providing patient care, such as the use of telehealth (phone and video consultations with our patients)
  • Moving to a lockdown environment for our hospitals and reducing visitor flow to help protect our community and our patients from COVID-19
  • Establishing Community Based Assessment Centres (CBACs), allowing people to be assessed for potential COVID-19 symptoms away from our hospital and GP environments
  • Significant preparation (with planning covering workforce, equipment and training) across our hospital’s Emergency Departments, inpatient wards and critical care units
  • Working with our 18 Iwi in the Bay, and Māori in general, to ensure good access to healthcare services, including exploring different ways for services to be provided to rural and remote communities
  • Supporting our primary and community providers, establishing what supports are needed and working with them on this.

What is an EOC and how does it work?

Anstis said the EOC activated on 16 March, which she heads up as Incident Controller, was the BOPDHB’s mechanism for running its response and explained how it operated.

“The EOC is our control centre for major operations of this sort and was last activated in response to the Whakaari – White Island eruption in December. Essentially it gives us a model by which we can coordinate such a huge operation,” she said.

“Within the EOC we have several key roles or functions. It’s an informational pyramid and a multitude of teams and services feed into these key roles, who in turn report to the Incident Controller to help ensure everything is coordinated across our health services – hospital and community.”

Staff welfare throughout the health system remained top of mind in such a demanding response said Anstis, and explained one way in which this was demonstrated within the EOC.

“This is a seven-day-a-week response so as part of our planning we have two EOC teams rostered to ensure our staff who are fulfilling these roles get sufficient breaks to recharge. The nature of this incident is that it is likely to be a lengthy response so managing people’s welfare is key.”

Anstis said the DHB wanted to pay tribute to the work which was ongoing in the Bay’s broader healthcare system to keep our communities safe from COVID-19.

“We are linked in with our GPs and community healthcare providers and they are all doing such incredible work for the communities we serve. Again it’s an attitude of getting the job done whatever that takes.”