1Box Hill Hospital, Eastern Health, Australia
Pandemics are not new; however, they pose significant challenges to how people work, socialise and manage their health (Madhav et al. 2017 p.1). The impact is especially pronounced for healthcare workers where risk of exposure and localised outbreaks is a distinct possibility (Nguyen 2020 p. 2). Coronaviruses have caused concern due to their potential to lead to pandemics in recent years. The infection rate and spread of COVID-19 has seen it reach every continent except Antarctica (Bostock 2020 p. 1). In Australia, dedicated wards for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 – often termed “hot wards” formed. Healthcare workers quickly adopted significant changes to service delivery to enhance PPE measures with daily screening processes, social distancing protocols and face-to-face meetings abandoned in favour of virtual measures. The experience of tertiary Victorian Public Hospitals who had experienced localised outbreaks helped launch an innovative decision to introduce a ‘split team’ model within the Social Work (SW) Department at a Metropolitan Victorian Public Hospital. Evidence both locally and overseas suggested that a split team model helped reduce exposure and cross-contamination among staff thereby minimising patient care disruption and managing work-demand (Soo 2020 p .2).
The split-team pilot model lasted one-month and commenced just prior to Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19. It was expected that greater opportunities to fine-tune the model would be possible without the competing stress of hard lock-down and the expected increase in demand for healthcare beds. The findings highlighted challenges to resource access – both technological and infrastructural; however, several benefits included balancing patient and employee safety, high-performance standards, work-load efficiency and continuity of service-delivery (even within a reduced capacity) for patients during a pandemic.
Mariana Sudbury is a senior social worker at Eastern Health and has over 14 years experience in hospital social work. She has worked within the acute, sub-acute and ambulatory setting and has established a strong understanding of the patient journey and broad range of interventions to optimize patient outcomes.