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On the Frontline – St John Staff Mask Up and Help with Victorian Pandemic Response

St John first aid NEPT Non-emergency patient transport officers with vulnerable person

This pandemic has been all about adapting to the changing environment. From parents home-schooling their children, to chatting with an elderly relative on Zoom, to remembering to pop on a mask when stepping out to walk the dog, we’ve all had to adapt to new and challenging times. This is also true at St John. Throughout the pandemic, we have pivoted as an organisation in several unique ways to support the health response. Thanks to the immense amount of experience and skill within our 570+ staff members, we have been able to redeploy our people to offer further assistance to the Victorian response.

Our incredible Volunteers have also been heavily involved in the COVID-19 response, you can read more about that in this article about what Volunteers have been doing during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, like many other businesses across the globe, 2020 hasn’t been ‘business as usual’ at St John. Earlier this year, many departments weren’t able to fulfil their normal activities and duties as restrictions were tightened. As events were shut down and public First Aid training came to a halt, first aid at events was cancelled, and Presenters were no longer able to visit schools to teach children aged 4-12 in the DRSABCD. Our highly skilled and qualified First Aid Responders (FARS), Presenters, Trainers were unable to work in their usual roles.

It has been heartening to see throughout this period how our staff have taken on additional duties including distributing PPE to health services, door-to-door COVID-19 test collection, transporting suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases, temperature screening and assistance in aged care and hospitals throughout Victoria. Additionally, with interruptions to First Aid training, our qualified trainers have used technology to deliver First Aid skills virtually via Webinars, ZOOM and Facebook Live sessions for free, an important part of our contribution to the community as a charity.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Distribution to our Healthcare Heroes

The emergence of COVID-19 has seen a significant emphasis on PPE use for healthcare workers. Keeping our healthcare workers on the front line safe, including doctors, nurses and aged care staff, is critically important. Without the proper PPE including masks, gloves, face shields, goggles, sanitiser and gowns, the lives of these people who keep us well are in danger. Naturally, there’s been an increased demand, which is where St John comes in.

On behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), we’ve taken on the enormous project of delivering PPE to testing sites, hospitals, aged care and GP clinics across Victoria. The project involves warehousing, fulfilment and next-day delivery of PPE in direct response to COVID-19 for DHHS.

Since June 1st over 10 staff members have worked weekends and after hours to distribute over 7.8 million pieces of PPE, with an average of 4,200 pieces per order. Furthermore, in July there was an average of 18 orders per day and an increase to 27 per day in August.

St John staff involved in this project have been a mix of Presenters, Trainers, FARS and Patient Transport Officers – many who don’t come with a background in warehousing but are willing to do what needs to be done. After all, without a reliable supply of PPE, all the lifesaving work our healthcare heroes are doing would be at risk.   

COVID-19 Door-to-Door Test Collection – A Rapid Response

In late June, DHHS announced they would be conducting a COVID-19 suburban testing blitz in Melbourne hotspot locations – postcodes that had at least five non-overseas acquired cases since 1 June 2020. This would need an enormous effort on the ground, so DHHS engaged St John to assist with the suburban testing blitz by knocking on doors to engage the public. With a mixture of our 22 passionate staff and 126 volunteers travelling to various hotspot locations over several weeks, we were able to distribute and collect thousands of COVID-19 self-testing kits.

Staff members whose usual roles included treating people with injuries and illnesses at events, Presenting first aid topics to children in schools and Training adults in everything from CPR to choking now were on the road knocking on the doors of strangers and asking them to complete a COVID self-test or working in logistics (assisting with rostering/scheduling of staff).

Throughout the initiative, St John staff worked over 500 hours and collected over 6,000 at home tests together with our volunteers – contributing to the 2,091,328 tests completed in Victoria to date.

Transportation of COVID-19 Patients with Care and Compassion

St John Non-Emergency Patient Transport (NEPT) crews transport on average 6,000 patients every month throughout Western Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat. Once the pandemic reached our shores, our NEPT crew started to transport more confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases, now up to a total of 9,111 patients, putting our staff at the very front line of the crisis. Their level of care and compassion was seen by the public at aged care homes throughout Melbourne in late July, as sadly many were evacuated whether COVID positive or not. There’s always a level of potential risk involved, however with sufficient training, PPE and stringent infection control procedures we reduce the risks as much as possible.

Aged Care and Hospital Support

Without a doubt, the pandemic has put a strain on Victoria’s aged care and hospitals. As more COVID patients have landed on their doorstep, many of their staff have unfortunately succumbed to the virus themselves, leaving these vital institutions in need of additional hands. To support their operations, we’ve relocated a number of staff to several of Melbourne’s largest hospitals and healthcare groups to assist.

Team members have been deployed to several roles within aged care and hospitals, to assist with executive admin, graphic design, high-level cleaning and PPE checking. When approximately 69% of healthcare worker infections in this second wave have been from their workplace, the experts in infection control have recommended the introduction of ‘PPE spotters’ to help reduce the risk and keep healthcare workers safe. We’re proud of our team members who put their hands up to be redeployed in hospitals and aged care, including trainers, presenters, FARS and corporate staff who fulfil up to 37 shifts a day so far.

Temperature Screening – Reducing the Risk

We know that people who have COVID-19 are infectious before they develop symptoms, which can often include an elevated temperature.

Temperature checks and thermal imaging (syndromic screening) were measures used during the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Although this alone is not a foolproof measure of whether you’re COVID-19 positive, it does detect people who have developed an elevated temperature – one of COVID-19’s first symptoms. Temperature screening is more so a precautionary measure, particularly for workplaces and retail stores. This should be used in conjunction with a suite of other measures including face masks, hand sanitiser, physical distancing and frequent cleaning of surfaces including the counters and change rooms.

To assist with this measure, we’ve redeployed 30 staff members to over 600 shifts at various organisations in Victoria to conduct temperate screening. This includes screening workers, students and customers as they come into their place of work, school or store to ensure their temperature is below 37.5°C, and asking a series of screening questions if requested by our customers. Throughout the pandemic, our staff have screened thousands of workers, guests, contractors, students and customers. Some of the organisations we have done this for are VLine, NAB and Westpac.

Virtual First Aid Skill Sessions

To continue our mission delivering First Aid knowledge and skills to the community throughout the pandemic, we’ve invested in delivering virtual webinars and Facebook Live sessions. We’ve even adapted our flagship First Aid in Schools Program to be delivered to schools remotely via ZOOM, Webex and Google Meet.

The First Aid webinars and Facebook Live sessions have been delivered by our qualified Trainers and provided important information on how to wear a mask, important information for workplaces to know during COVID-19, mental health support, infant First Aid and CPR – just to name a few. We’ve had close to 650 webinar registrations and 16,500 collective views for our Facebook Live sessions.

Moreover, through our virtual First Aid in Schools Program, we’ve trained 609 students in term 2 and almost 700 students (and growing) for Term 3, directly into students’ homes.

Throughout the pandemic, our core mission - For the Service of Humanity - remains enduring. So, redeploying our people to assist with the COVID-19 crisis in Victoria is something we’ll continue doing as long as it’s needed so that we’re providing the support and expertise to the community that St John is always known for. We are ever-grateful to our many people for adapting from their usual roles and putting themselves forward for unusual or more hazardous tasks – you are a testament to the St John spirit, and we couldn’t do it without you!

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CPR Lab setup outdoors and taught to the public by our CPR instructors

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St John first aid at events volunteers with first aid kit

Event Health Services

St John Ambulance is the largest and most comprehensive provider of First Aid & Event Health Services in Victoria.