A life put on hold
Regional nurse manager, Gary Clark, told the IRC about the inspirational role nurses have played behind the scenes to construct a barrier to COVID-19 in NSW correctional services.
Gary told the Commission that working in prisons “is not a glamorous area of health”, however, it is an area where nurses can make a significant impact on patients and the lives of their families.
While it may not be glamorous, overseas experience shows nurses in prisons play a critical role during a pandemic.
As of 3 July, the five worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States have occurred in prisons. The hardest hit institution is Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio with 2439 cases.
There had been 40 outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States that involved clusters of 500 or more people. Of those, 31 occurred at correctional facilities.
Gary says incarcerated patients are at significant risk of contracting COVID-19 as they are housed in large dormitories or close-contact cells.
“Bathrooms are communal and social distancing is almost impossible to maintain,” he says.
Away from the public eye there have been thorough preparations to pre-empt COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian jails, with nursing staff at the forefront.
- quarantining and testing of all new patients
- isolating all patients with symptoms
- screening all staff on entry to work
- minimising all movements of patients.
Gary was seconded to work with a superintendent from Corrective Services to develop and build a ready-for-operation field hospital should COVID-19 levels become a major issue. There is a contingency to build up to nine field hospitals across NSW, aligned to isolation hubs at regional jails.
Gary says staff worked tirelessly, seven days a week over the four weeks, with collaboration with Corrective Services to ensure they were prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic and its possible impact on the correctional system in NSW.
“Every area of the nursing community contributed to ensure the commissioning of the field hospital was achieved within four weeks – infection control, HR, educators, unions, management, work health and safety, infrastructure and procurement,” he said.
“My family and friends took a back seat for close to six weeks to ensure the field hospital was built and all the staff were properly trained and educated.
“I was proud of what an expert job my colleagues did to work so closely and collaboratively with Corrections to ensure the safety of our patients and staff.”
The pay freeze, he said, would have consequences for the retention of nurses who had proven themselves as a bulwark against the coronavirus.
“Having no pay rise this year would mean I would have to make difficult decisions such as decreasing the level of my private health coverage and decreased spending on entertainment, takeaway food, dining out and holidays,” he said.
“The long-term impact on my superannuation is also of concern after a career of almost 40 years.”