District supports nursing home staff
Sydney Local Health District has an experienced team of nurses working at the frontline of the fight to protect the most vulnerable in our community from COVID-19.
Elise Campbell, James Courtney and Andrea Long provide rapid COVID-19 testing for the District’s 58 residential aged care facilities. They are also an important source of clinical knowledge and advice for nursing home staff.
The trio is seconded to the District’s Residential Aged Care Facility (RACF) Outreach Service, based at Concord Hospital.
Since the start of the pandemic, the RACF Outreach Service has almost doubled its activities to support nursing homes in the District.
“COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on nursing homes and their staff. We’re trying to give them as much extra support as we can,” Elise said.
Older people with comorbidities are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, and nursing homes residents, in shared living spaces, are particularly vulnerable.
In such a high-risk environment, screening for the virus can prove challenging, especially when residents have dementia. It requires a group of special, highly skilled people.
James said: “Having a nasal and mouth swab taken by a nurse in PPE can be a terrifying experience for someone with dementia.”
Elise said: “They can’t see what you look like behind the mask and goggles. Your heart goes out to them. You have to use all the communication skills you’ve learnt over your nursing career to try to make it less scary for them.”
Andrea said: “With residents with advanced dementia it’s often too difficult to explain what’s going on because they just won’t understand.
“We take our time to make the residents feel more comfortable, and if we need to, bring in a care worker or nurse who knows them to reassure them.”
Elise, James and Andrea all have plenty of experience working with older people. Early in the year, as the virus began to spread in Australia, Elise, a neurosurgical nurse, pivoted from working as Co-ordinator of the District’s Dementia Support Service to COVID-19 screening.
James and Andrea, both Clinical Nurse Consultants specialising in Chronic and Complex Care, joined her as COVID-19 RACF Outreach Nurses in the RACF Outreach Team.
The RACF Outreach Service, led by Dr Natasha Spalding, a senior geriatrician at Concord Hospital, operates on an integrated care model, working with nursing homes in the District to provide nursing and medical care for residents.
“There are about 4300 nursing home residents in the District – a large group of very vulnerable people that we need to protect. It’s a responsibility that we, as a District, take very seriously,” Dr Spalding said.
Each week the RACF Outreach Team, along with the Public Health Unit and Concord Hospital’s Palliative Care Service, hold a teleconference with managers of nursing homes in the District. They are also joined by a Primary Health Network representative and NSW Ambulance.
It’s an opportunity to share information and updates on COVID-19 and for nursing home staff to ask questions or reach out for support.
AJ Ambas, Clinical Governance and Quality Assurance Manager at Leigh Place, a nursing home in Roselands, said the RACF Outreach Team are a shoulder to lean on through challenging times.
“The RACF Outreach Team has provided us with extra confidence that we are not alone in safeguarding our residents from the virus.
“The stress of this pandemic can be overwhelming but the RACF Outreach Team has been helpful in constantly communicating and educating our service.
“The accessibility and approach of the RACF Outreach Team has a huge positive impact on our Leigh Place Aged Care community.”