24 January A Call To Arms January 24, 2021By Oscar Chaffey career, challenges, COVID-19, health outcomes, internship, public health, regional, rural, Victoria 0 By Kelvin Yap 2nd Year Management Intern COVID-19 has definitely made 2020 a memorable year. As the world continues to battle increasing case numbers, in Australia, the state of Victoria has so far been the only state to experience a “second wave” of COVID transmission. This has provided an enormous challenge for health systems across the State. In June, an emerging “second wave” of COVID-19 transmissions was identified in Victoria. This led to a state-wide response and tightening of restrictions on community movement. For some health services, this situation also led to a call to expand their public health role in response to the increasing public health demands. During this time, I was a health management intern at Barwon Health in Geelong, Victoria. A health service that stepped up to the call to assist in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing and public health monitoring had operated centrally from Metro Melbourne since the start of the pandemic. However, during this “second wave”, the Victorian Government had decided to establish the first dedicated regional public health team at Barwon Health.1 Their task - to provide case management and contact tracing for regional cases, and assist metro teams. What followed this decision, was weeks of intense work by Barwon Health to establish systems and processes while “on the job” to contact trace and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Barwon Health contact tracing team worked tremendously hard through this time, and their efforts ultimately were well rewarded. Not only were the team at Barwon Health acknowledged for their success in containing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in their communities,2,3 the system and processes developed by Barwon Health for local contact tracing is now used as a model for other health services to begin establishing their own contact tracing teams.3,4 In a time of a real public health crisis, this experience has been absolutely inspirational to me. To have worked with such a phenomenal team of people. Having witnessed the dedication, enthusiasm, and resilience that was displayed by the entire team at Barwon Health is exactly why I saw the response as equivalent to – a call to arms. Here are some of my reflections on my experience working with the contact tracing team at Barwon Health 1. The importance of effective communication The aim of effective communication is simple – so that the person you are talking to understands your point. Factors such as poor health literacy, and speaking a different primary language are few of the many barriers to effective communication I experienced working in the contact tracing team. However, never have I been more proud to call on my foundation as a clinician. As clinicians, we continuously develop our effective communication skills on a day to day basis by having to deal with a variety of patients, often with a wide range of communication needs. Working with the contact tracing team gave me a greater appreciation for the sometimes under-acknowledged parts of clinical work and skills that we develop as clinicians. 2. Never forget compassion This statement is a great reminder to me, especially having worked in a high intensity environment. During the initial stages of contact tracing, the team often focused on core principles of contact tracing such as limiting contact, managing symptomology, and using epidemiology data to prevent spread. It was not long before we were reminded of the need to be people focused, to show empathy, and to re-connect with the needs of our community. Ultimately the team realised, that the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was by working with the people affected, understanding their specific needs, and practising compassion. This positively impacted public compliance of directions given, and significantly impacted the type of support provided to schools and workplaces. 3. Teamwork inspired to the next level through shared vision Although this may seem a bit of a cliché, my reflection on the teamwork experience is strongly linked to the feeling of camaraderie that was developed by the contact tracing team at Barwon Health. The notion of “we are all in this together” was exactly the positive experience needed to motivate everyone to continue working diligently through stressful periods. It was exactly this camaraderie that drove each and every team member to work together, support each other, and contribute selflessly. This was not just at Barwon Health, as the team in Geelong worked closely with other neighbouring organisations in Colac, Warrnambool, and Portland to name a few. The ultimate goal? To keep our communities safe by stopping the spread of COVID-19 and supporting the unique needs of our regional communities. 4. Embrace adaptability and agility In the words of Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “Change is the only constant”. No truer words for my experience working in contact tracing during Victoria’s “second wave”. As the work processes for contact tracing at Barwon Health were being developed at the same time as the important task to contact trace and monitor, this meant that the processes had to constantly adapt and to the ever changing needs. From contact tracing just a few positive cases a day, to over 30 positive cases a day in a matter of days, the team had to be prepared for anything when walking into work every day. Through the practice of breaking down processes and whole team collaboration, the contact tracing team at Barwon Health were able to adapt to the constantly changing environment together. What I remember, is a team that embraced the need to be adaptable, and displayed resilience when taking on constantly changing procedures – such as swapping paper based forms to digital forms, and having to increase use of telephone interpreters for difficult conversations. To read more on the regional contact tracing teams in Victoria, please see news articles below: Local knowledge vital to contact tracing success in fight against coronavirus. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-15/local-contact-tracing-teams-needed-to-combat-coronavirus/12557504 Inside the Geelong contact tracing team. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/inside-the-geelong-contact-tracing-team-20200814-p55ltm.html References Office of the Premier of Victoria, 2020. Escalating The Coronavirus Fight in Regional Victoria [Press Release]. Published 17 July. Available at: https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/escalating-coronavirus-fight-regional-victoria. Accessed: 11 November 2020. Australian Government Department of Health, 2020. Deputy Chief Medical Officer press conference about COVID-19 on 8 September 2020 [Press Release]. Published 10 September. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/news/deputy-chief-medical-officer-press-conference-about-covid-19-on-8-september-2020. Accessed: 11 November 2020. Office of the Premier of Victoria, 2020. Stepping Up Targeted Testing For Regional Victoria [Press Release]. Published 8 October. Available at: https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/stepping-targeted-testing-regional-victoria. Accessed: 11 November 2020. ABC News, 2020. Melbourne's suburban coronavirus contact tracing teams were supposed to be running by now. So what's the hold-up? Published 7 September. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-07/melbourne-suburban-coronavirus-contact-tracing-network/12857104. Accessed: 11 November 2020. Related Posts Reflections on the end of my HMIP journey Yang Su reflects on the end of his HMIP journey Starting a new role in the virtual world The one thing that has been certain during the COVID pandemic is uncertainty. What is value-based healthcare? Have you ever heard of value-based healthcare? 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