Whakatāne Hospital is triaging patients at the front entrance as part of its preparedness to protect patients, staff and the wider community from COVID-19.

“People will notice a portacom is now set up at the front entrance.  Rather than coming into the emergency department (ED) waiting room to be triaged by a nurse, that’s happening from the portacom,’ says Bay of Plenty District Health Board interim chief executive Simon Everitt.

Two nurses are based in portacom 24/7. One is triaging people seeking healthcare from ED the other is screening the limited number of people coming into the hospital.

“These precautionary measures are about protecting our staff and vulnerable patients from the potential of being exposed to COVID-19,” says Everitt.

The nurses are asking those presenting at the portacom a series of questions related to COVID-19 symptoms such as: Do you have a cough, a high temperature, (at least 38°C), shortness of breath?

Those who are identified as having COVID-19 symptoms are being referred to the Community Based Assessment Centre at the Whakatāne War Memorial Hall. If they do still need to be seen in ED right then appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procedures are being followed. If they have no COVID-19 symptom and need to be treated in ED they will be seen as usual.

As part of its COVID-19 preparedness, the hospital has also divided its wards into red and green zones.  Any patients who have suspected COVID-19 are treated in red areas and staff working there are following strict PPE guidelines.

“These measures are really important and necessary to protect our staff, patients and will improve our ability to manage the potential increased demand as the COVID-19 situation unfolds,” says Everitt.

Other measures to protect patients and our community from COVID-19 include:

  • Reduced all non-essential electives (surgeries) and outpatient appointments to create capacity within our hospitals.
  • Phone and video consults with patients where appropriate.
  • No visitor policy with few exceptions (nominated person who is supporting a terminal patient through end-of-life-care, and a parent/guardian who is supporting a child. For maternity, one support person/birthing partner.)
  • Established 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.

Simon Everitt says we all need to unite against COVID-19 to slow its spread.

“We would remind people to wash their hands often, with soap, for 20 seconds, and dry thoroughly. Cough or sneeze into your elbow. And most importantly, stay home if you are sick and phone Healthline 0800 358 5453 or your GP if you have any concerns.”