Retired nurses are pulling on scrubs again and abandoned hospitals are reopening around the nation as Australia boosts its frontline defence to prepare for the worst of the coronavirus crisis.
As the number of locally confirmed COVID-19 cases climbs beyond 2420, hospitals are bracing for an influx of patients before the expected peak in May or June.
Millions of Australians could become infected, with hundreds of thousands needing medical assistance every day.
Already, healthcare workers fear they won’t have enough protective wear, such as masks, or intensive care unit beds to cope with the looming crisis.
To help alleviate their stress, dozens of retired nurses and paramedics are offering to come back to work.
So far, more than 100 nurses and paramedics in Victoria have put their hands up in response to a callout from the state’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.
“I would encourage any other healthcare worker who has retired, who hasn’t been practising for some time, to assist us in this challenging time,” Ms Mikakos said.
But to accommodate more health workers and patients, we need more hospitals.
In South Australia, the state government recently announced it would reopen two decommissioned hospitals to provide an extra 188 beds for coronavirus-infected people requiring treatment.
The dedicated facilities at ECH College Grove and Wakefield hospitals were in use up until a few months ago and are expected to be operational by April.
Wakefield Hospital will be dedicated to caring for mildly acute COVID-19 patients in a 130-bed facility.
In the Victorian town of Warburton, residents and local councillors have been pushing for the state government to reopen the private Warburton Hospital to help treat coronavirus patients.
Among the facilities at the decommissioned hospital, which opened in 1910 and has been closed since 2006, are 50 hospital beds, a high dependency unit and a 24-hour emergency department.
Campaign leader Daz Nankivell said the hospital, though old, was “well equipped”.
“You could have it up and running again within days – all you need are doctors and nurses,” Mr Nankivell told The New Daily.
“We need more beds to be able to save more lives. It’s a shame to have all those resources and equipment sitting there not being used.”
During Tuesday night’s council meeting, Yarra Ranges councillors unanimously agreed to consider reopening the hospital to treat COVID-19 patients.
Councillor Jim Child said the hospital had recently had a $250,000 upgrade before going to market, “so it’s better equipped than ever”.
“Reopening it would also take the load off local GPs, who we really need to throw our support behind at this time,” Cr Child said.
Eildon MP Cindy McLeish added the hospital would be “ideal” for aged care or rehabilitation services for vulnerable patients.
The community’s push to reopen Warburton Hospital is among a growing number of campaigns aimed at recommissioning former hospitals across the country in the fight against the pandemic.
In south-west Victoria, a campaign to reopen the former Geelong Private Hospital succeeded this week after a charitable trust came to the rescue.
The contribution by Percy Baxter Charitable Trust means 50 new beds costing more than $365,000 will be funded at the hospital.
The state government had already allocated $437 million, which will include new beds, additional equipment, funding for emergency departments and intensive care units.
The hospital will be recommissioned and will include consulting rooms and virus clinic capacity.