Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Royal Park campus has been forced to shut wards and move patients to other hospitals after a coronavirus outbreak among staff and patients.
The hospital has closed four wards after conceding much of its infrastructure was “never set up to care for COVID-19 positive patients”.
There are more than 120 cases of the disease linked to the campus.
The hospital set up COVID and non-COVID wards, but the disease spread.
Nurses told the ABC they had been fearful for the safety of patients receiving care for other conditions.
The hospital had been used to treat aged-care residents as coronavirus spread through nursing homes.
In an internal Facebook post, last week hospital CEO Christine Kilpatrick said the hospital would “start to discharge patients from the designated COVID aged-care ward back to their residential aged-care centres”.
“We will consolidate our COVID positive patients who are on our Royal Park campus to the rehabilitation wards, both of these wards [are] more contemporary in their design and better suited for supporting patients with COVID-19,” she wrote.
A staff newsletter also said COVID-19 negative patients would be moved from the hospital altogether.
“Since the infrastructure on most of our wards was never set-up to care for COVID-19 positive patients, we faced, with all precautions, the challenge,” the hospital’s divisional director of medicine and community, Andrea B Maier, wrote to staff.
Professor Maier wrote since Tuesday, coronavirus-negative patients had been transferred to other hospitals “to minimise the risk of infection and to be able to consolidate the care for patients on two wards”.
“This change has enormous impact on all of us, but it is for the safety of our patients and ourselves,” she said.
She thanked the hospital’s staff for their resilience and paid her “deepest respect to all of you working”.
“The last four weeks have been challenging from an emotional, physical and operational point of view,” she said.
Nurses ‘rightly unhappy’ with hospital outbreak
An internal message to staff at the hospital from the Allied Health Professionals Association claimed a breakdown in communication led to a lack of safety protocols being followed, which meant the outbreak was improperly managed.
VAHPA told members last week it had written to hospital management about “a number of procedural issues including the lack of code being called [that would have] triggered a set of protocols” to manage the outbreak.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said staff were “rightly unhappy” with the outbreak at the hospital.
“The early communication failed to properly inform staff about the extent of the outbreak and the plans to mitigate transmission,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
She told the ABC the union was informed of the outbreak last week.
“This has obviously exacerbated the high levels of stress and anxiety nurses were already experiencing on a daily basis in our health system,” she said.
“We initiated urgent discussions with management as soon as we became aware that the outbreak had spread from COVID-19 wards to non-COVID-19 wards.”
She said the union was liaising daily with Melbourne Health management to address nurses’ concerns.
They included cleaning, extra PPE sizes and ensuring an appropriate number of staff members were rostered to each shift who knew the facility to work alongside surge staff.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital said it transferred COVID-positive patients at the Royal Park campus to two wards that would allow for better infection prevention measures.
“These wards are more contemporary in their design and better suited for supporting patients during this pandemic,” the hospital said in a statement.
“This has been made possible with a number of recovered patients being discharged to their residential aged care facilities.
“From the outset of this pandemic, the safety of our staff and patients has been, and continues to be, our highest priority.”