‘It was like Armageddon’
Grafton Base Hospital was surrounded by multiple bushfires this fire season.
Remana Harris, an RN in Grafton hospital’s emergency department, looked outside at 3 o’clock one afternoon and saw the sky was orange.
“It was like Armageddon,” said Remana, who is president of the Clarence Valley NSWNMA branch.
“We had quite an extensive period where the whole town was blanketed in smoke and we saw a lot more presentations because of smoke inhalation.
“Some of the firefighters presented to the hospital, and we had workers who had smoke just blowing through their workplace and they had asthma.”
Hospital presentations traditionally peak in winter. However, longer and more destructive bushfire seasons are now putting pressure on hospitals all year round.
“A lot of people with co-morbid conditions had to come and stay in hospital because their homes were in jeopardy,” Remana said.
“People who have extensive NDIS packages, and who normally only come in when they are unwell, came in when their normal services couldn’t reach them.”
While demands on the hospital increased, some staff members had trouble getting to work.
“At one point we only had one highway in and out of Grafton, and a lot of nurses couldn’t come to work because of fires closing roads.
“Five hospital workers lived in Nymboida, where 85 homes were lost, and they were cut off from their properties.”
The Clarence branch had already been campaigning for more staff in recent months, Remana said.
“We have been asking for extra staff, or something as simple as the in-charge nurse not having a patient load, and for an extra nurse across each shift in.