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40 nurses isolated, hundreds tested amid fears of 'another Newmarch' in Rockhampton

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More than 40 nurses are in self-isolation and hundreds of people are awaiting coronavirus test results as investigations continue into a nurse who tested positive to COVID-19, forcing a Rockhampton aged care facility into lockdown.

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More than 40 nurses are in self-isolation and hundreds of people are awaiting coronavirus test results as investigations continue into a nurse who tested positive to COVID-19, forcing a Rockhampton aged care facility into lockdown.

Medical staff from southern Queensland, including about 20 nurses, have been flown in to assist in hospitals, fever clinics and aged care facilities as the number of people stepping forward for testing increases. Advocacy groups  have described the outbreak as “eerily like” the deadly infection in Sydney’s Newmarch House nursing facility.

The crisis was sparked after an enrolled nurse, who is understood to have worked in reception at the state-run North Rockhampton Nursing Centre, tested positive to coronavirus last Thursday.

The nurse is believed to have been contagious since May 3 and continued working while showing symptoms. She returned to her workplace after being sent for coronavirus testing but before her results came back.

Queensland Health is investigating the circumstances, including whether the nurse was fever-checked every day as per requirements for all aged care facility.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday said 235 staff and residents at the home had all returned negative tests for coronavirus and there were 37 awaiting results.

“We are still monitoring the Rockhampton issues very closely,” she said.

Six close contacts of the nurse in the community also had tested negative but residents in the Rockhampton region were being urged to step forward for testing if they had “any symptoms”.

A spokesperson for Queensland Health said all contacts were being closely monitored and secondary testing would be conducted if any of these individuals showed symptoms.

Nurses in self-isolation

Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service estimates more than 600 people were tested for the coronavirus at fever clinics in the city since Friday, with more 5000 calls made to the coronavirus hotline.

The Queensland Nurses and Midwifery Union’s Grant Burton said more than 40 nurses in the Rockhampton region had gone into isolation until they received their test results.

“The fact that 41 or 42 staff have now been [self-isolated] at home has certainly been a challenge,” he said.

“Health services has risen to that and has staff flying in to assist.”

Burton said union representatives were working with Queensland Health to ensure additional staff would be sent to Rockhampton if required in the coming days.

“Staff are coming from Metro North and South with further discussions with Wide Bay and Darling Downs,” he said.

“They will be where they’re needed — whether that’s the fever clinic, the general hospital or the aged care centre.”

There are now two fever clinics in Rockhampton, with others at Yeppoon and Gladstone.

Burton said with increased demand for nursing and health services, it was important for those on the front line to remember their own health.

“They certainly go above and beyond and they feel the need to come to work, but the message is clear if you are sick stay home,” he said.

“There is additional staff coming in and we will be working in collaboration with the service to identify any areas that are running short.”

‘Eerily like Newmarch House’

Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA) is a Commonwealth-funded group which provides support to older people using aged care, and their families and carers.

After hearing from families at Sydney’s Newmarch House, CEO Geoff Rowe said he was “disturbed” to learn about the news in Rockhampton on Friday.

“It is eerily like what has happened at Newmarch House,” he said.

“The infection was brought into an aged care facility in Sydney by a staff person who was unwell.

“What we’re seeing coming out of the North Rockhampton Nursing Centre is very encouraging, we’re seeing a very proactive response. What we saw at Newmarch was a very slow response.”

Rowe said it could be a stressful and traumatic time for central Queensland families.

“It’s not unusual, based on our experience with Newmarch in Sydney, for family members to be feeling left out of the loop and to learn what is happening on the news, which is very distressing,” he said.

“A lot of family members concerns were similar or the same, it was often around the lack of communication, the lack of any knowledge of what was happening with the family member.

“I think what we’re seeing at the moment at the [North Rockhampton Nursing] Centre is quite a calculated and a careful response and unfortunately families need to be patient.”

He said the advocacy group was open to providing weekly video link updates, similar to what has been done for Newmarch House families, to improve communication if families reach out.

Residents and families can contact ADA on their 1800 700 600 hotline between 6am and 10pm everyday for support.

– ABC / Rachel McGhee, Erin Semmler and staff reporters

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